A Vision for Switzerland County

Vevay’s collaborative effort
gaining attention statewide

The goal is to create a tourism destination
while revitalizing the downtown area

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

VEVAY, Ind. A community-wide movement is under way in the sleepy Ohio River town of Vevay, Ind., that is transforming it into a tourist destination designed to drive economic development.

May 2007 Indiana Edition Cover

May 2007
Indidan Edition Cover

In “A Vision for Switzerland County,” six community groups and government agencies have pooled their ideas, their dreams and financial resources to develop a strategy that will stimulate development, attract tourists and revitalize their downtown. So far, up to $650,000 has been committed to the project, and only some of it is the result of casino revenue that has filtered into the community via local government. The rest is the result of true commitment on the part of nonprofit foundations and community resources, according to the plan’s architects.
The Switzerland County Council, the Town of Vevay, Switzerland County Tourism, Switzerland County Economic Development, the Vevay-Switzerland County Foundation and the Community Foundation of Switzerland County are part of the innovative project that combines a clustering program for retail shops, encompasses county wide signage, business workshops and incentives, building renovations and the Vevay Main Street Facade and Signage program.
The project is lead by Switzerland County Executive Director of Tourism David Attaway, who was hired less than a year ago to head the effort.
“We are encouraged but realistic,” he said. “What we are looking for is sustainable economic development through tourism.”
The Visions project is being touted by tourism industry officials as a model of success. Attaway, along with Visions project coordinator Angie Satterfield, will give a presentation about the project on May 11 at the Indiana Convention Center at the 2007 Indiana Cultural Tourism Conference. Dr. Amanda Cecil, Professor of Tourism at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and one of the conference coordinators, said, “The Indiana Office of Tourism recommended the Switzerland County project as a model it hopes other counties will emulate.”
During the conference, more than 150 cultural tourism and hospitality specialists, political decision makers, travel professionals and expert consultants will gather together to discuss issues related to public relations, integrated marketing strategies, and development and planning of cultural tourism.
“We are excited and thrilled to be asked to present the project,” said Satterfield, 39, who gave up her previous job as a schoolteacher to join the Visions project.
And in the most recent development, the Visions project was touted by state tourism officials as the reason they chose Vevay among only three small towns in Indiana to receive more than $333,000 in grants and loans as part of a new downtown revitalization program. Amy Vaughn, director of Indiana’s Office of Tourism, made the announcement April 27 on the Switzerland County Courthouse steps.
Vaughn later said: “Vevay rose to the top because of the unique, collaboration that is going on here at all levels of the community. We see it as something other towns would want to look at for their own development. What they’re doing here is really innovative, and it’s all happening in such a short period of time – that’s what’s amazing.”

The project unfolds

“Visions” is a 24-month project with specific goals and objectives, Attaway said. “The actual start and end of the project are a bit fuzzy; the first phase will end when the funding runs out.” The program began in earnest in June 2006.
A major focus of the project included taking stock of what was available within the community and using that to stimulate economic growth. “We wanted to retain the charm and uniqueness of our county, and we didn’t want to bring in outside sources,” said Attaway.
During the research phase of the project, leaders discovered an abundance of artists and craftsman in the community who just didn’t have the financial means or the appropriate outlet to show their goods.

Dave Attaway

‘What we are looking for is sustainable economic development through tourism.’

– David Attaway, Switzerland Co. Tourism Director

A plan was devised to open several retail stores that would showcase those handicrafts and allow artists to sell their wares for a small commission fee. Four stores have opened since October 2006 that offer those talented community members a chance to market their merchandise. Those stores are The Mercantile, Signatures of Switzerland County, Antiques & Treasures, and Amish Goods. Three of the stores on along Vevay’s one-block-long Main Street, and The Mercantile is on the adjoining Ferry Street. Other new stores are also popping up, including the G.G.’s Grill, which operates on Ferry Street and features a gift shop and candy store, all in one beautifully renovated building. The hard-to-miss Bizarre Ladies gift shop is located just across the street in a lavender colored building that is still undergoing some final renovation.
The new Coffee Works Cafe, meanwhile, operates on Main Street that features local artwork on the walls. And the Community Studio Gallery has moved to ground level, where it displays local artists in a location on Main Street.
“Although we are still in the early stages with most of the stores, we are getting positive feedback and the artisans are making some money,” said Satterfield, who oversees the tourism-operated retail shops.
Martha Bladen, owner of The Bizarre Lady, said the new businesses have helped attract more people to her shop as well. “It is nice having more businesses because people now see this as a destination to visit,” she said. “I’ve noticed a bit of an increase in tourism.”
Attaway said tourism officials understand that in order to attract visitors to an area, there needs to be several places they can shop or dine. This concept is called clustering. “We deliberately opened the stores in a timely fashion together in order to get a clustering effect,” he said.
With more than 500,000 visitors coming each year to Belterra Casino Resort & Spa, just seven miles east of downtown Vevay, officials needed a way to attract some of those visitors to the town. The close proximity of the new retail stores in the downtown area provides visitors with numerous shops to browse in one easy-to-walk location.
Pam Brindley-Raley, manager of the new G.G.’s Grill, said she also has noticed more people walking around the downtown area. “I think the project is working because more people are coming to check things out,” she said.
Besides simply opening stores and allowing people to sell their goods in them, Visions also has created a series of workshops that allow business owners or potential retailers to gain valuable marketing and business skills. “Many people just simply did not have the tools necessary to open or expand their business,” said Satterfield. “These workshops offer practical solutions and advice so that people gain the skills they need to succeed.”
So far, there have been workshops on accounting and bookkeeping, networking, web presence, and marketing skills in which many existing and potential business owners have participated.

Amish Goods Shoppers

Photos by Don Ward

Shoppers inspect items at Amish Goods,
a new store on Vevay’s Main Street.
Everything in the store was made
in Switzerland County.

Another aspect of the project has been a grant program initiated to help downtown businesses get new signs or facades. As part of the program, businesses can apply for up to $5,000 in a 50-50 match to help renovate the exterior of their building or get new signage. Either the building owner or the shop owner can apply for the grant. Numerous retailers have taken advantage of the program. Main Street in Vevay is now sporting an updated and inviting look.
Bladen’s shop has just been approved for one of the facade grants. She said the grant program has helped business owners make major changes that they would otherwise be unable to do. “It has just helped tremendously,” she said.
Jon Bond, executive director of the Switzerland County Economic Development Corp, said the Visions project appears to be doing great. “There is such a visible difference in Vevay with the new facades and the new stores,” he said. “The activity level has been great; the changes have made Vevay a vibrant place to show potential investors.”
Meanwhile, as town leaders were implementing the Visions project, several local residents and business owners formed a “First Friday” program. During this event, which is held on the first Friday of every month during the evening, visitors, residents, art gallery owners and the community at large gather together to socialize, visit, shop, dine and enjoy live entertainment.
The combined effects of the new Visions project and “First Friday” events created an economic stimulus for the town that appears to be growing. Tonya Krall, owner of Vevay’s Swiss Alps Printing, said, “The new shops and First Friday have been absolutely wonderful for our town because they are bringing in more tourists.” She also is a tour guide on the “Step-on Historical Tours,” which offers tours around the county for motor coaches. She said there are far more attractions to keep people interested and coming back.

How it all started

The entire project got started when the tourism board of directors, which included Satterfield at that time, was looking for a new executive director of tourism. “We were an aggressive dynamic group, and we knew we needed to look outside of the box and get someone without local baggage,” she said. “Sometimes an outsider can bring in new eyes and new ideas.”
The board did a national search and found just the right person – David Attaway.
Attaway, who holds a master’s degree in marketing from Ohio University, was living in

Angie Satterfield

Angie Satterfield

Las Vegas at the time. He said that when the board contacted him about the job, he was impressed with the “intelligent process of looking for someone different.”
With a background in casino marketing and a desire to be closer to his family in nearby Ohio, Attaway agreed to sign on with Switzerland County. It was during the early days of his leadership, and after a retreat with the board of directors in January 2006, that the concept for Visions was created.
Attaway knew tourism definitely needed to move Belterra Casino visitors through the county to create economic opportunities. In the past, the county was unable to capitalize on that. He also realized he needed to pull the various community factions together and help build a positive and visionary plan for the county.
“The trick was to get everyone to rally around a central plan,” he said.
At a meeting with the six groups, participants identified the challenges facing their county, and goals were discussed. “I told everyone to shoot for the moon, as if money was no object,” said Attaway.
The outcome was a new and positive energy and a grander scale of thinking than what was previously considered. “People are not talking about possibilities, not obstacles,” he said. “We understand that some of this may fail, but the majority of the ideas will work.”
Pam Acton, executive director of the Community Foundation, said people were hesitant at first and unsure how things would go. “At least we were trying,” she said. “To see the different factions working together and to see what is actually happening in the community is just great.

Taking the next step

When Attaway arrived in Switzerland County last year, he was excited about its historical background as the first commercial winery in the United States. He saw the wisdom in capitalizing on that uniqueness. He is now working to create a branding process that strategically uses that fact.

Pam Acton

Pam Acton

Part of his new strategy includes the creation of signs with a colorful insignia and logo. The 33 signs, which will soon be placed throughout the county once state highway officials approve them, are beautiful purple and gold featuring a simple bunch of grapes as a logo. Some of the signs, which recognize the various towns and attractions in the county, are ready to be put up.
“We are trying to create linkage throughout the community with these signs,” said Attaway.
Also, Satterfield and Attaway recently traveled to Paris, Ark., to study a very successful winery museum built by Robert Cowie of Cowie Wines. Cowie Winery and Historic Arkansas Wine Museum is the only wine museum in the United States dedicated to preserving the wine history of an entire state.
Attaway is working on a plan to create a wine museum in Vevay. “The idea is still in the brainstorming stage and evaluation stages. We are simply looking at what’s feasible,” he said. He has asked Cowie to come help him put one together.
As part of that evaluation stage, Visions is working to buy the old Grusard building on the corner of Main and Ferry streets. It sits strategically at the intersection of the only stoplight in town. Historic Landmarks of Indiana provided a grant to do a study on what it would take to purchase and renovate the building. “It is doable,” said Attaway.
He said a Portland, Ore., building group is also coming to Vevay to look at possible locations for a wine museum. “We need to share Switzerland County’s story of what happened here when J.J. Dufour started the first commercial winery in the country,” he said. “It’s important, and it is our heritage.”
As “A Vision for Switzerland County” moves into its second phase, Attaway said one of the goals is to get everyone self-sustaining. “We want to see private enterprise take over. In the meantime, we continue to education in the process.” He also said Visions needs to keep setting more goals and keep moving forward.

Martha Bladen

Martha Bladen

In an effort to keep that vision moving forward, Denver-based marketing consultant John Shallert was invited to lead a training seminar for town merchants. Shallert travels the country to present retail marketing wisdom for small town store owners. His program, “Destination Development” we held at the Ogle Haus hotel in early April and attracted 50 participants. His program includes on-site seminars and critiques of storefronts and in-store presentation. “Our retailers got great feedback and some expert advice from him,” said Attaway.
Next, the Visions steering committee may participate in a recently announced statewide tourism grant that will pay half the expenses to bring in Seattle-based tourism and marketing consultant Roger Brooks. Brooks travels the globe helping communities and resorts transform themselves into “must-see” tourism destinations. Brooks provided the keynote address and additional seminars at the Hoosier Hospitality tourism industry conference in March in Indianapolis.
With a fresh perspective from new leadership and outside advice from nationally recognized consultants, Switzerland County tourism officials and local business owners feel confident they are moving in the right direction toward achieving their initial goals. And the entire process is moving along at a fast pace. The results are evident – just take a stroll down Vevay’s Main Street.
Satterfield said: “We hope ‘A Vision for Switzerland County’ continues on and on because it has been great for our community.”

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