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Playing to Our Small Town Strengths

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | June 23, 2015
Dan Boyce downtown shot
Looking ahead to jam packed May full of tremendous events we find ourselves asking two questions:
1.  What the heck were we thinking?  And,
2. How can we make sure all of our visitors have a wonderful experience in Emporia?
Big events always look daunting before they happen, but the second question is always an important one to ask.  When we look back at the past few “big” events, certain things stood out to our guests.  Other suggestions were filled this past year, but we need your help to pass information along.  Below are some very simple things you can do to help make upcoming events a little more special for visitors.
1.  Here’s your sign- As corny as it might sound, “welcome” signs for Glass Blown Open Disc Golfers, Flatland Cruiser Car Enthusiasts and Dirty Kanza riders go a long way towards letting visitors know they are welcome.  If you have a marquee, electronic signs or you simply want to put a poster in your window, do what you can to let people know they are welcome in Emporia.
2.  Introduce yourself– If you see someone that seems like they are from out of town, reach out your hand and say “hello”.  Thank people for coming to Emporia.  You will be shocked at how thankful people are to receive a welcome from a local.  Generally, visitors want to know more about our community, so…
3.  Become a unique information conduit– One of the most important things a citizen can do during a visit from “out of towners” is to highlight our unique features.  Amenities, unique shops, local restaurants, special entertainment options and historical features all allow a visitor to differentiate Emporia from every other community they have visited.  Most communities of a significant size have a Taco Bell, so sending people there probably won’t make Emporia stand out in the mind of a visitor, but introducing people to a Casa Ramos might.  Sending people to a Walmart instead of a local merchant doesn’t make Emporia stand out.  Think and communicate unique options for better visitor relations.
4.  Decorate your windows!- Themed windows that incorporate an event occurring lets participants know that your business is “friendly”.  Decorations in windows also serve the vital purpose of educating the public.  Even though our local media does a fantastic job adding coverage and context to local events, you would be amazed at the number of people that have no idea what’s going on during the Dirty Kanza or other local festivals.  When you decorate, you encourage the public to engage your knowledge about community events.
5.  Share tech-  A relatively new feature that we believe can give Emporia a competitive advantage with visitors is the E-Town Mobile Application.  Downloading the mobile app turns your smart device into an events calendar, a business directory and a community map (among other things).  The E-Town App can help you answer questions for visitors (or show them directions), but you can also encourage visitors to download the app in their Apple App Store or Google Play Store (the web version will be done shortly), and take all the information they need with them.  The new mobile app technology gives people a significant amount of community information at their finger tips if you help make them aware of the app’s existence.
6.  Volunteer- When people volunteer, they often become the first line of information for visitors to Emporia events.  Set up, clean up, watching gates, manning booths…  Volunteers have a vital role in the success of events in the Emporia area.  While volunteers are engaged in a variety of tasks, they are often approached by visitors and asked for community and event information.  Consider being an information conduit by volunteering.  If you are interested in volunteering for an upcoming event, please e-mail Emporia Main Street at [email protected] and we will get you connected to the appropriate individuals.
7.  Just be your nice, friendly, smiling happy selves.–  In large cities it is hard to form personal relationships and rare to see someone you know on the street.  When visitors from the city arrive in a smaller Kansas towns, they can either feel like they are instantly part of the family, or that they are being stared at by strangers in a “children of the corn” movie.  Midwest culture is generally kind but shy, and people from larger areas don’t always “get” shy.  Be a little more outgoing with visitors.  You will meet some really neat people, and the visitors will get a chance to interact with our best local asset: our people.
Each year local events grow when locals support them.  Each year our regional events grow when locals act as effective community advocates.  The growth in activities is more than a cosmetic community pride issue; real economic benefits are derived from successful events and activities.  As events descend on the Emporia area en masse, remember to take some ownership in your community’s success by offering support.
What ideas do you have to showcase community support for upcoming events?
See this article and MUCH more in this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.