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HCI ready to work on capstone project

Those interested invited to Jan. 31 meeting

January 23, 2019
Having learned that it received funding to complete its capstone project, "Tourism, We Mean Business," the Crawford County Hometown Collaborative Initiative group will host a public meeting on Jan. 31 to continue efforts to implement it this year.

The capstone project will include three components: We are Outdoor Recreation, Grow Crawford and Keep Crawford Beautiful.

The "We are Outdoor Recreation" part of the project will utilize the $5,000 HCI grant awarded by Purdue University, along with money donated by Jasper Engines and Transmissions, to put up consistent signage with the county's long-time tourism slogan at various businesses throughout the county.

In conjunction with that, the CFCC with partner with the Crawford County Economic Development Corp. to offer a workshop to help prepare those businesses owners with the information needed to answer the questions that visitors may have.

"Anyone who comes to Crawford County is going to see this same sign: 'We are Outdoor Recreation.' … What we want to do through that workshop is empower (business owners) to know, 'OK, how do we refer people, if they stop in?' " she said, adding Crawford Countians already have a reputation for being among the nicest people.

"I think overall, I hear it all the time, Crawford is one of the friendliest places," Harbeson said. "When you go into a restaurant or you go into a gas station or go to any of our wonderful places, people are friendly. They say, 'Hi. How you doing?' They're just nice and kind, which is what we want. We just want to make that more of a coordinated effort."

By empowering business owners to be able to refer guests to the locations and services they need, in essence self-promoting the county, the goal is to help all businesses in the county economically, Harbeson said.

"We want them to make money off this, too," she said.

Harbeson noted that the local HCI group didn't come up with the "We are Outdoor Recreation" slogan.

"We are capitalizing on a well-known motto for Crawford County already. That's not new. We just took what's already there, and we're capitalizing on that and working, hopefully, more collaboratively with all of our partners," she said.

At an estimated cost of $75 each, Harbeson said the Crawford County HCI group is hoping to flood the county with the "We are Outdoor Recreation" signs and window clings in order to create a cohesive branding effort. The goal, she said, is for all of the signs to be put up at the same time.

The "Grow Crawford" component will leverage the Crawford County EDC and Crawford County Chamber of Commerce in order to help network existing and new businesses. Through things like workshops, the goal is to promote the establishment of new businesses while also helping existing ones grow.

The goal of the final component — "Keep Crawford Beautiful" — is to do just that. Working with the Crawford County Solid Waste Management District, which already has successful clean-up efforts, and other beautification groups, including youth organization, the hope is to clean up roads while also selecting at least one area for beautification.

Besides the $5,000 grant itself, HCI partners have donated both monetarily and in-kind to the capstone project, bringing the total project income to just shy of $16,000. Still, that isn't a tremendous amount of money, meaning community buy-in and volunteer efforts are critical.

"Community volunteer hours are going to be a significant part of this grant, and that extends to not only the committee work of selecting the signage and coordinating volunteer groups and things like that, but the actual volunteer work itself," Harbeson said.

That includes posting or hanging the signs, depending on the type of signs selected, the beautification and cleanup efforts, and working with groups like the Crawford County Chamber of Commerce and Crawford County Tourism Office, she said.

"There's so many layers to the project, and that's why volunteerism is so crucial, because, obviously, with $15,000, $16,000, there's not a lot of money there to work with," Harbeson said. "So, it has to be volunteer labor. It has to be the community buying into the project and self-promoting. That's what it is. It's about self-promotion of Crawford County."

Morgan Stutzman, a senior at Crawford County High School who has been involved with the HCI effort since it got underway two years ago, said she believes the committee has done a good job of selecting the right type of capstone project.

"We've had all these people agree that this is the direction that we need to go in. If we want to do these kinds of things, we need the input of the people and we need to trust what they have to say. I trust this is the direction we should be taking," she said.

Harbeson said the goal all along has been getting the community to buy in to the effort so individuals will take the mantle, once the capstone project is completed, and continue improving the county. She added that she is confident that will happen.

Crawford County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Michael Thissen said the HCI efforts already are benefiting the county in other ways and will continue to do so. He noted that data gleaned from the HCI process, which included a community survey, has been beneficial to the economic development effort.

"We've been using that data to target industries that might work in Crawford County vs. industries that might not work," he said. "It actually allows economic development to focus more on our current businesses and how we can grow them and then how we can attract certain clusters of businesses to gain jobs and improve our quality of place."

Harbeson agreed, noting the CFCC has used the data in grant making.

She said the HCI process has been transparent, adding the results from the survey remain public on the CFCC's website at cf-cc.org.

The public, whether they have been involved with the HCI effort so far, is invited to the Jan. 31 meeting. At Hillview Christian Church west of Marengo, the meeting will begin at noon. Snacks will be provided, but attendees may bring their lunch.

At the meeting, attendees will be asked to sign up for which committee representing the three components of the capstone project on which they would like to serve, with those committees then taking action.

"Everybody's welcome," Harbeson said.

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