The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 23, 2019 1:00 am

Attracting people to area has become easy sell

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

The inviting culture and quality of life in northeast Indiana is part of the pitch that many local groups make to get people to come here.

For some, the goal is tourism, which brings money into our communities.

The LaGrange/Shipshewana Visitors Bureau targets a nine-hour radius when promoting tourism. It is reaching people willing to drive a day and spend several days in the area. Also, that is about the length of time a commercial bus driver can be on the road with a tour group. Either Shipshewana is the destination, or it's a resting place along the route.

It does digital marketing as well as getting placements in magazines, including travel and women's publications.

Executive Director Phyllis Youga says people all over know Shipshewana for being picturesque. Visitors from larger cities in the Midwest such as Chicago, also appreciate that Shipshewana is so condensed. Everything is a walk or a short drive away, making attractions and businesses easy to find.

Youga says the bureau does what it can to promote the Amish businesses in the area since they aren't online.

“The Amish culture is definitely a draw,” Youga says. “It's intriguing to people.”

Some visitors might think that makes the area more religious or wholesome, she says. The community is also out of the rat race, so some are drawn to the slower pace.

But Shipshewana isn't all horses and buggies. Alongside the well-known flea market and Amish woodworkers, venues such as Blue Gate Theatre and Michiana Events Center are bringing in larger attractions and big-name performers.

Youga says she tells people that if they haven't been to Shipshewana lately, they haven't been there at all.

Regional and state tourism meetings are attended by groups like Visit Fort Wayne, which promotes both the city and Allen County.

Representatives at those meetings talk to their counterparts about what is going on in their towns. That way, they are able to connect visitors with attractions outside their own purview.

Visit Fort Wayne, for example, might tell visitors about Pokagon State Park in Angola. And large attractions, such as the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival in Auburn, generate visitors and hotel stays for Fort Wayne.

“If people are interested in something we don't have, we are quick to (say) we can hook you up with the right person,” says Kristen Guthrie, director of marketing and communications for Visit Fort Wayne.

The organization focuses advertising efforts on a radius of about 250 miles from the city and also invites travel writers to visit for tours.

Visitors bureaus aren't the only groups promoting our area communities. Discussing the quality of life here is part of how colleges recruit prospective students.

“I think it's an important piece of a campus visit,” says Adam Hohman, assistant vice president for enrollment and marketing at Manchester University, which has campuses in North Manchester and Fort Wayne.

Visiting families are encouraged to drive through North Manchester and see the businesses and other opportunities that are available.

Hohman says 77% of the 2018 incoming class was from Indiana with about 45% from surrounding counties, so not all are familiar with the area.

When talking to prospective students and their families, representatives of the university describe North Manchester as a small and inviting home away from home with welcoming businesses such as 24-hour grocery stores.

Many students' families view North Manchester as a safe community, Hohman says. They also might appreciate that though there are things for students to enjoy in the community, it isn't a place that offers a lot of distraction from studying.

But for students looking for the amenities of a larger city, they need to drive only about 25 minutes.

Talking about Fort Wayne is a key point for students interested in Manchester's pharmacy program, which is one of several based at the school's Fort Wayne campus near Parkview Regional Medical Center. In addition to more clinical opportunities, there are also more job opportunities for spouses of older students and more varied cultural activities.

Jessa Campbell, Visit Fort Wayne marketing and communications coordinator, says enjoying the area herself makes it easy to share stories with visitors such as taking her nieces to Fort Wayne Children's Zoo.

“I'll tell you that as a true story and not as an anecdote I've heard,” she says. “I think that's what makes it so easy for us, that we have such a great quality of life.”

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily