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Vilas County: Planning underway for ‘re-writing the rural narrative’

April 17, 2020 by Abigail Bostwick

Telling the Vilas County story as a place of not only scenic and picturesque beauty, but also as an economic place to call home are part of what “re-writing the rural narrative” will be about, the Vilas County Economic Development, Tourism and UW-Extension Committee learned March 4, from Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC) executive director Kathy Schmitz. 

“There is a lot of talk about declining populations across the state, but that’s not the case in Vilas County or many other counties,” Schmitz said. “We want to get that story out, that Vilas County’s population is growing.” 

Still in pre-contract and planning phases, Schmitz relayed a luncheon event with tourism committee and county board members, as well as one with members of the public, is expected in the future. 

County-contracted marketing company Pilch and Barnet’s Lyn Barnet gave a report on ongoing marketing efforts. A recent winter promotion was the third highest contest conducted, joining other seasonal records, she stated. 

“What this shows us is that the platforms we have now are really working well for us,” Barnet said. 

In 2020, Pilch and Barnet will step up efforts on Instagram, as well as continue other social media promotions such as Facebook and Twitter for engagement and drawing attention to the area. 

“I see us working together more and saying, ‘While you’re vacationing here, consider moving here,’” Schmitz said.

Committee member Carolyn Ritter indicated for resort owners such as herself, one had to be careful so as not to lose the tourist crowd. 

“If you move here, I lose a customer,” she pointed out. “We need to keep even numbers … since the 2009 recession, we took a hit. We all felt it here. I don’t think it’s returned to where it was since 2007 and 2008.”

The tourism season used to be a solid three months, but now seems to start later in the month of June and span six to seven weeks, observed Ritter. 

“We don’t have the young families coming in … it’s left very soft shoulder seasons,” Ritter explained.  

Schmitz said she felt tourists would always support that particular industry. 

“With demographics, we have to bring in new people,” Barnet said. “There’s a changing dynamic of vacation for sports and weekends … the seasons are all sort of shifting.” 

Other news

In other business, the committee:

• Heard from Schmitz on a rural broadband update, noting Phelps continues to work on its own towards possible development just as Land O’ Lakes did in recent years and that Boulder Junction has applied for a grant to establish such a system. 

“We continue to monitor any needs that Phelps has,” Schmitz stated. “We want to work cohesively as a county … a lot of work is piecemeal yet, and we should show our strength as a county … There’s been a lot of good. I think we can do better. We want to show a united front as a county.” 

Chair Holly Tomlanovich agreed. “There’s strength in unity,” she said. 

• Agreed to have unapproved meeting minutes ready in a “timely fashion” for county website publication.

Committee member Marv Anderson offered putting a five-day deadline on it, but departments noted it may be too restrictive on their workloads.

• Learned the 2019 budget was in the black and the 2020 budget is on track. 

• Heard that some 9,000 new visitor’s guides have been distributed. 

Abigail Bostwick may be reached at [email protected]

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