Last week, we hosted our annual tourism symposium. Kelly Ing, our Director of Industry Relations, did an amazing job of lining up some top-notch speakers and even though the event was virtual, the level of engagement was excellent. The one thing that really stuck out was a common theme of “community”. Each of our speakers, regardless of expertise, pointed to the importance of vibrant communities. Vibrant communities are full of businesses like yours that provide a sense of place and pride. They are full of municipal staff that are constantly reinventing ways to connect with their residents and visitors. And they are overflowing with residents who are proud of where they call home.
It doesn’t happen in a vacuum or overnight. Creating and maintaining vibrant communities is done in little steps, slowly layering in new activities, amenities, and events that residents get used to and become part of the culture of the town. And it is happening all through Central Counties. Scugog is working on an Open Streets concept which will transform the beautiful core of Port Perry through programming, increased pedestrian accessibility, extended patios and more. In Uxbridge, they are transforming one of their parks, working to make it one of the key hubs of the community and connecting it to their downtown. In Whitchurch-Stouffville, they built a Lego-like Holiday Market that put a smile on the faces of residents and visitors alike.
It’s not just the municipality that connects residents to their community. Businesses just like yours are doing it each and every day. In my hometown of Georgetown, the Furnace Room Brewery created a Saturday Sour Series where every Saturday from spring until late fall, they would feature a micro-brew (2 kegs worth) of a sour. They programmed the patio with music, partnered with a food truck and invited the community to spend some time together. For many, it became a weekly tradition to head over for a few hours. And in doing so, you got to meet your neighbours. Now that it has turned cold, they have partnered with a local Facebook group called “The Record Player” (if you are a music lover, I highly recommend joining) who invite the community – theirs and the rest of Georgetown – out on Sundays to bring in their vinyl and spin some tunes while enjoying a beverage or two.
The Second Wedge in Uxbridge offered up some of their space to host the weekly farmers’ market, something that brings the community together through the summer and fall. Likewise, all the partners of A Country Path create an incredible sense of community by working together and talking about and recommending each other to residents and visitors. These are just two of many, many examples of businesses that are working together to build a sense of community, something that residents are proud to talk about and want to take their family and friends to.
On paper, creating a strong visitor economy seems pretty easy. Focusing on one thing builds new businesses, creating new jobs, leading to more residents, which brings in more businesses, creating new jobs, leading to more residents. That focus is making the community vibrant. When you develop partnerships that create new experiences and attractions in a town you draw visitors. When you focus on knowing your neighbours and the things happening in your town, those visitors feel that sense of community. When residents love their community and understand the importance of visitors, you have created a new champion. These visitors spread the word about how great your community is, leading to more visitors who also become champions, which leads to people wanting to relocate to be part of the community, which leads to more businesses wanting to open in a place that has such an amazing vibe and character. You see, it’s simple.
In a world that is so complicated, it is often difficult to wrap your head around something simple, because nothing can be simple, can it? We waste too much time and effort trying to think about why it can’t be that simple or can’t work. We look for roadblocks instead of solutions. We see the consequence of failure rather than the thrill of success. Let’s just do it! Every day, we are seeing more and more municipalities and their business communities just go for it rather than sit back and wait. Luckily, lots of them are right here within the borders of Central Counties. If you don’t know where to start or have an idea you want to “just do”, reach out.
Let’s be the region of vibrant communities, a place where everyone wants to visit, live and move their businesses to. Let’s do it without fear. Let’s do it knowing that it grows the economic strength of the municipality. Let’s do it continually in baby steps, investing and re-investing to animate, beautify and program. Let’s find partners that share our vision and want to do their part to make their communities incredible. Let’s give our current residents more and more reasons to have a pride of place.
We can do it. And the more of us that want to do it, the easier it will be. The hardest part of this whole concept is deciding you just want to do it. Once you make that decision, CCT can help you determine what your “it” is and then connect you with your neighbours, municipality and anyone else that wants to see your “it” come to life. In re-reading this E.D. Corner, I recognize that it sounds like a motivational speech, something to be presented by a chiselled jaw, impeccably dressed keynote speaker with teeth so white they reflect the spotlight back into the crowd. But the fact is, this isn’t conjecture. This is my passion coming through. My belief – and one shared by the entire CCT team – that when we create a strong foundation of vibrant communities, the visitor economy is going to thrive.
If you have an idea or don’t know where to start but are ready to get going, please reach out and let’s get going! I am an email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day!