Branding and Public Engagement Strategy.
West Virginia’s Upper Kanawha Valley, comprised of the communities and outdoor areas between Charleston, WV, and The New River Gorge, has experienced a sharp economic downturn over the past decade.
Trailhead: Where We Started
As part of an initiative to revive the region’s tourism, quality of life, and economic growth, the Kanawha County Commission solicited master planning proposals to generate a comprehensive trail system for outdoor recreation and to plan for integrated small business development in communities and areas adjacent to key access points along the Kanawha River. Seeking to “reshape its future” away from dependency on coal towards regional tourism and small business growth, the KCC set its sights on consolidating existing assets and amenities while creating new economic development for the benefit of residents, entrepreneurs, and tourists alike. One of the Commission’s first priorities was to locate an agency capable of assisting with economic development consulting, brand generation/management, and the development of a public engagement strategy.
Trek: Steps We’ve Taken
In partnership with CEC (Civil and Environmental Consultants Inc.), TrailBlaze Creative submitted a proposal to match the ambitious vision of the Kanawha County Commission and wider region. TrailBlaze’s existing experience providing community branding and analysis services to a number of outdoor-oriented organizations like Watersheds of South Pittsburgh, made TBC an intuitive choice.
CEC and TrailBlaze Creative first assessed regional assets to locate promising opportunities for further development of the outdoor economy. This process began with the ground-level work of visiting multiple regional towns to convene with stakeholders, interview community leaders, gauge public sentiment, and determine innovative ways to inspire participation from businesses, local governments and residents. Recognizing mixed attitudes regarding entrepreneurial development in the region, the team focused its development, marketing, and branding efforts on promoting future trail development as a community-centric “rallying point.”
Through an analysis of statistics and consumer spending in the West Virginia Tourism Office’s “Almost Heaven” campaign, CEC and TBC found multiple areas of alignment between its proposed public engagement strategy for Kanawha County, and West Virginia’s larger state-wide effort. In turn, TrailBlaze initiated a comprehensive branding study, which aimed at constellating and promoting an integrated network of assets within Kanawha County, aligning its regional tourism messaging with the state.
TrailBlaze promptly conceptualized branded signage for Kanawha County trailheads, points of interest, boat ramps, ATV sites, horse trails, and more – all while developing methods to clearly map and promote regional assets to visitors entering each town’s information center. While seeking to capitalize on the county’s geographic position between two appealing, high-traffic destinations – Charleston and the New River Gorge – TrailBlaze also insisted that stakeholders establish methods to distinguish each town within the county by appraising unique assets, clearly articulating town roles/contributions in the broader network, and creating unique branding to highlight the offerings in each town.
TrailBlaze also developed a strategy to encourage community “buy-in” by showcasing the many entrepreneurial opportunities available to potential and existing “Mom and Pop” businesses (restaurants, ATV/bike shops, microbreweries, etc.). With the aim of soliciting participation from existing businesses and future developers, the project team outlined an approach to encourage these entities to supply supplemental recreational activities for hikers, trail-goers, and others visiting the Kanawha River, its forthcoming trail system(s), or other regional destinations.
Finally, using information gathered from surveys, interviews, facilitated sessions, and qualitative/quantitative analysis, TrailBlaze crafted and shared tailored recommendations for the regional outdoor economy effort. Equipped with place-specific, localized action plans, towns within the Kanawha Valley are now able to take scaled but meaningful steps towards the region’s larger mission of cultivating a robust and vibrant trail system with complementary economic development in each of its host towns.
Summit: Vision Realized
TrailBlaze, in partnership with CEC, formulated a lucid, practical, and employable strategy for Kanawha County to create a constellated and interconnected outdoor economy, using its existing assets as a launch point to catalyze future economic development. As a result of TrailBlaze’s promotion of entrepreneurial development and community involvement in economic growth, one local government in the Kanawha Valley has already committed to building an ATV park adjacent to the forthcoming interconnected trail system.
More broadly, community leaders and local governments in the region are working to promote and incentivize entrepreneurial development to coincide with the unification of the region’s trail systems. Towns have a plan to capitalize on existing local assets, contribute to the broader regional initiative, and build branding opportunities for each community relative to the larger, regional brand. TrailBlaze employed survey tools, organized public meetings and forums, and applied human-centered design techniques to galvanize interest, innovation, and investment in the Kanawha Valley. The county is now applying for additional funding to further enact many of the strategic recommendations made by CEC and TrailBlaze Creative.
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