Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

County board hears tourism report


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Bessemer — A state program can help cities and counties learn to use visitor first impressions to help identify assets and realize potential, according to a tourism specialist who spoke to the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Will Cronin, the tourism and community development educator for Michigan State University Extension, appeared virtually at the county commission regular meeting to discuss the First Impressions Tourism program. He said the program has helped marketing and development in the cities of Bessemer and Ironwood, after taking part in the program in 2018 and 2019, respectively, where visitors evaluated 67 tourism-related assets that helped local leadership integrate those ideas into planning.

The First Impressions study is conducted by Michigan State University’s Extension Community, Food and Environment Institute, and looks at community food systems, entrepreneurship, finance and homeownership, government and public policy, land use, leadership, natural resource management and tourism. 

“Essentially, First Impressions is a comprehensive community assessment designed to help communities see themselves through the eyes of first-time visitors,” Cronin said. “The program objectives are to create excitement around grassroots community development, and form the basis for future development in communities that do the program.”

To apply a town, city or county forms a leadership team who work with program officials in preparation for a visitor team of Michigan residents and employees of MSU Extension. The five individuals visit for the first time alone, with a spouse or partner, or with family on an overnight stay.

The visitors review online travel sources and social media, and then record their experiences and observations that are compiled into a report with recommendations. The visitors to Ironwood and Bessemer recommended that the communities consider the outdoors and waterfront locations such as Copper Peak, Black River Falls, the area ski hills and local annual events as regional assets to be included in tourism marketing.

A negative experience is explained in detail without naming a particular business. More detail is provided to the leadership team alone.

“It’s information, not criticism,” Cronin said. 

The report details how people felt as soon as they entered the community, he said. They noted how easy or not it was to get community information and locate sites of interest. The report is a broad analysis of the community from the perspective of people who are here for the first time.

For this area the visitors place nature and adventure experiences, along with authenticity of attractions, value for money in tourism experiences and historic or heritage attractions, he said. The downtown areas were given good remarks for maintaining historic charm and creating green space in the form of pocket parks on vacant lots. 

Cronin also mentioned new MSU Extension resources to include the Tourism Team COVID-19 Pandemic and Tourism website that provides resources for all sectors of tourism and hospitality. 

The meeting continued with the county commission approving a Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement for costs incurred during COVID-19. The approval ensures the Michigan State Police will be reimbursed $4,482.15 of a total $5,976.20 in COVID-19 related expenditures.

The county commission approved naming Ramona Collins as the county representative to the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority. As the elected clerk of court and register of deeds who takes office Jan. 1, 2021, Collins will replace current representative Gerry Pelissero, the current clerk of court and register of deeds who retires on Dec. 31.

The county commission approved advertising vacancies on two county boards. There are two seats expiring on the Gogebic County Transit Authority, and three seats on the Gogebic County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

The county commission tentatively approved the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority’s request to reduce its size from nine members to seven members. The county commission wanted the approval to follow legal review to determine if the county commission has the authority to reduce the board size and if there are other procedures or guidelines that need to be followed. If the board size is allowed to be reduced there would be a need to seat one new board member and not three.

In other business, the county commission:

— Held a moment of silence for Mary Jendrusina, a former county accounts payable employee who passed away recently from COVID-19, according to the Big Powderhorn Ski Patrol memorial post on their Facebook page.

— Provided a round of applause in appreciation of Gerry Pelissero, clerk of court and register of deeds, who will retire at the end of the month.

— Moved the appearance of Darla Lenz, forestry supervisor, U.S. Forest Service, to discuss a Small Tract Act proposal to the Jan. 27, 2021 meeting. 

— Receipt of capital outlay project plans from the Gogebic-Iron County Airport Board.

— Naming county Equalization director Kathy Jo Koval the designated assessor for the county as required by the state Tax Commission.