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Editorial: Branding partnership smart idea for Lake and Ashtabula counties

When neighbors work together, they sometimes can accomplish bigger things than by acting alone. That’s why we like the idea of Lake and Ashtabula counties partnering in a program aimed at boosting tourism in the two-county region. Public officials from Ashtabula and Lake counties began communicating earlier this year with local winemakers and distillers to start their own public-private branding campaign. Officials are still soliciting private funds, and it’s not yet determined what precisely will be spent in this $180,000 or more campaign.

According to officials, this is how much each entity is spending so far:

• Ashtabula County is allocating $30,000 out of its Economic Impact Fund.

• Ashtabula County Port Authority is allocating $25,000.

• Ashtabula County Visitors Bureau is allocating $10,000.

• Lake Metroparks is allocating $15,000.

 Local wine producers are allocating $8,000, with $2,000 expected to come soon.

• Lake County commissioners are allocating $90,000 using bed tax revenue.

Although the partnership is still a work in progress, we believe it’s a good idea for a number of reasons. First, it has the potential serve as a single source that will introduce tourists to a greater number of attractions in a larger geographic territory. If the new partnership needs a role model for success, it can look to wineries in our region. The many wineries in Lake and Ashtabula counties, and even a few in Geauga County, are promoted effectively through a “Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trail” under the leadership of the Ohio Wine Producers Association.

Those involved with the public-private partnership emphasized that the campaign is not about forming a new wine and distillery trail, but connecting the counties’ wineries and distilleries to the region’s other assets: the lakefront harbors, bed and breakfast venues, covered bridges, county parks, golf courses and the scenic rural views. “There are enough individual attractions to go along with the wineries,” said Mark Rantala, executive director of the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority. The authority is serving as the financial agent in the campaign, which doesn’t yet have a formal name. To ensure that the public-private branding effort is launched professionally, a portion of the partnership’s money will go to hire Peggy Noe Stevens and Associates, the Louisville, Kentucky-based consulting firm responsible for the creation of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999. The trail connects visitors to distilleries between Louisville and Lexington, and since its creation, production at Kentucky’s network of craft distilleries has increased nearly threefold, according to the trail’s website.

We’re also impressed that the partnership is entering this venture with the mindset that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Forming a year out from the National Republican Convention in Cleveland, officials involved in the campaign said they hope it has a presence there and an impact on the convention’s expected 50,000 visitors. Nevertheless, the joint campaign is being designed for the long-term, not to merely attract convention goers, officials  stressed. “Nobody wanted to do this for a one-shot deal,” said Lake County Commissioner Judy Moran, who is heading the project among her commission board. “It makes no sense to pour this kind of money for the four days those people are going to be here. I personally would like to see this years and years from now and growing.” We commend all of the involved parties from Lake and Ashtabula counties for their willingness to ignore borderlines and make a concerted effort to bolster tourism for the region.