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Branding program is moving ahead

Justin Dennis

An inter-county branding initiative, representing many of the northeast corner’s attractions under one banner, is moving forward after a cooperation agreement approved by Ashtabula County commissioners.

The Grand River Branding Initiative is a collaborative economic development effort between Ashtabula and Lake counties’ officials, port authorities, visitors bureaus, wineries and other entities, and, by design, will promote the counties as “all seasons” destinations.


The Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority is the administrative agent, collecting and distributing trust funds from all parties for the estimated $150,000 to $180,000 project, said Mark Rantala, authority executive director.

“I think this is really an opportunity for the two counties working together to get more back from their buck,” he told the Star Beacon.

He compared the vision to the tourism attraction of the Lake Erie islands or Chautauqua, N.Y.’s Finger Lakes area. Many N.Y. lakeshore counties pool their resources to promote the area as a year-round “playground,” encompassing breweries, wineries, shopping and museums set in front of a lush natural backdrop.

“There’s something to do each season,” Rantala said.

“It’s branding that goes beyond the wineries. It’s incorporating the attractions of both counties as well” — Ashtabula County’s wine country, Lake County’s Fairport Harbor beaches, Farm Park or the Metroparks, which has “some of the best cross-country skiing in the region,” he said.

“I think the intent is to put all these together and show people there’s more to do in Lake and Ashtabula counties than you might have thought otherwise,” he said. “And this is kind of the foundation of a long-term campaign that will continue to use the branding over the years.”

Part of the funding — of which Ashtabula County has contributed $30,000 — would go toward contracting a marketing consultant or agency, which would research area amenities and work with local internal marketing teams like the one at Lake County Metroparks, he said. It’s expected to take between nine and 12 months before the finished product is ready.

Commissioners recently invited Peggy Noe Stevens, of Kentucky, to give a presentation on her branding process. Stevens wrote the five-year marketing strategy for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a branding effort that put area distilleries, breweries and wineries along the same path.

Though Stevens has yet to be officially contracted into the consortium — at a price that could be determined within weeks, Rantala said — she talked to the Star Beacon about her impression of the region, after her brief trip.

“How about I start with passion? I think there is a huge energy for the passion of the (wine) industry,” she said. “Having a right-minded vision is absolutely imperative — having a unified front to understand how you want to communicate your culture. I find that with any spirit or wine destinations — even beer destinations.”

Commissioner Casey Kozlowski said the initiative could help put Ashtabula County on the “national stage” during next summer’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, expected to draw close 50,000 people — about 15,000 of them from media outlets, he said.

“I envision having everybody at the table representing those various interests, as we work to highlight ... our wineries, our covered bridges, our parks in both counties,” he said. “It’s monumental in a way because we’re forging a partnership with Lake County and being able to better pool our resources.

“This gives us a unique opportunity to work together to better the region. Both counties will benefit.”