The fourth NACo County Prosperity Summit took place on May 28 in Cheatham County, Tennessee – a scenic and culturally rich county situated just west of Nashville with a population of about 40,00 people. The Cheatham County Prosperity Summit convened over 40 county, municipal and regional leaders in the city of Kingston Springs, Tenn. to brainstorm creative ways to advance economic growth via the county’s growing tourism sector.
Cheatham County, Tenn. boasts miles of scenic rivers and natural assets.
Selected through a competitive application process, Cheatham County rose to the top of the application pool due to the unified and comprehensive approach that county, local and regional leaders are using to strengthen opportunities in its sustainable tourism sector. In 2012 the Cheatham County Chamber of Commerce and Cumberland Region Tomorrow – a regional organization that supports sustainable economic development in the Middle Tennessee Region – formed a partnership to secure a Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program. The grant provided funding to inventory and document all existing and potential tourism and recreation resources in Cheatham County. The resulting product was the 2013Cheatham County Tourism Plan – a formalized planning document laying out a place-based marketing strategy for Cheatham County and its four municipalities of Ashland City, Kingston Springs, Pleasant View and the Town of Pegram.
Summit attendees represented city and county elected officials, business owners, regional organizations, state agencies and community activists. When asked to comment on their interest in attending the summit, many cited the need to address population decline and retail leakage as a result of high external commuting rates. Attendees also discussed the importance of maintaining and preserving the county’s myriad natural assets – including rivers, trails, scenic byways and agricultural land, to name a few. Above all, the resounding theme was the importance of building a thriving sustainable tourism sector to not only address economic challenges but to also more efficiently utilize the county’s natural, cultural and social assets. Cheatham County Mayor David McCullough stated, “Today’s NACo County Prosperity Summit serves the important purpose of enhancing our local and regional leaders’ capacity to develop creative economic and community development solutions. We are also excited about building on our existing assets to achieve successes in implementing the recommended practices laid out in the Cheatham County Tourism Plan.”
The Cheatham County Prosperity Summit was facilitated by Deb Markley, Co-Director and Managing Director of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. Ms. Markley introduced summit attendees to the WealthWorks framework and walked them through a number of visioning and mapping exercises to strengthen local and regional connections within the county's sustainable tourism sector. Throughout the day, Markley stressed the importance of tapping and utilizing all local assets to create new economic opportunities for local people, places and firms: “We live in a time of increasingly restrained resources, and there are very few counties and municipalities that aren’t operating with limited budgets. That is why finding and reconnecting all of your underutilized assets on the economic margin is absolutely crucial to building a sector and making it an economic driver in the community.”
To add local context and describe a grounded application of the framework, Michelle Decker of Rural Action – a regional economic development organization in Appalachian Ohio working on food systems, forestry, watershed restoration and energy – also joined the event. Ms. Decker shared her experience with Rural Action supporting sustainable agriculture value chains to find new market opportunities for small farmers in Appalachian Ohio, including developing food hubs and marketing and branding opportunities with regional agricultural partners. She recommended that Cheatham County leaders identify intentional and sharply focused tourism strategies that meet already existing demand for tourism opportunities in the region.
A summit attendee works on a value chain.
As the day ended, summit attendees focused on formulating concrete next steps to forward the momentum and success of the event. To begin, the group agreed to form a small steering committee of local, county and regional staff to coordinate the next steps moving forward, including representatives from Cheatham County, the Cheatham County Chamber of Commerce and Cumberland Region Tomorrow. The newly elected steering committee agreed to meet monthly to prioritize a list of actions – starting with securing a part-time staff position to oversee tourism-related activities over the next year. In addition, the steering committee agreed to structure a list of tangible actions that need to be tackled in the three months, including exploring public-private partnerships to support implementation of the tourism plan and brainstorming new tourism marketing approaches to gain community buy-in.
The final 2015 NACo County Prosperity Summit will take place in Cape May County, N.J. on Thursday, June 4.
Interested in learning more about County Prosperity Summits and WealthWorks? Plan to attend NACo’s Annual Conference this summer in Mecklenburg County, N.C., which will feature a County Prosperity Forum on Sunday, July 12th from 9am-12pm EDT. To register for the conference, visit naco.org/annual. For more information about the County Prosperity Summits Program, visit naco.org/prosperity and visit the new NACo County Prosperity Summits Digital Journal to explore more stories, sector information, images and maps from each of the five summits. Questions? Contact Jen Horton at firstname.lastname@example.org.