If you hear some knocking, that's opportunity at your door. Today we're going to talk about some ways to stimulate the economy of our area. I'm going to encourage you by looking back at a couple of our success stories. Do you remember our Italian festivals? Charlie Sturniolo and I organized those festivals and they were very successful. Do you know why? Because we got so many wonderful volunteers!
The last project that I worked on was the cookbook. Here again there were four volunteers who worked with me. We made a $5,000 profit and gave it all to the community. I always say volunteers are "good for nothing" (no pay). People who work from their hearts and not for pay are the best workers you can find! And the rewards are priceless. It makes you feel so good! Now with our economy being what it is, it's time for another project.
My son Dan and I have often talked about this subject and then this Sunday's St. Augustine's Record had this headline: "Some Retirees Passing Up Florida." It told the story of Peg Davis, who moved to Camden, Maine. She was looking for a small town with natural beauty, cultural opportunities, and a "sense of place." Sound familiar? Fredonia is perfect! With the university here, we have plenty of cultural input, and the history of Fredonia has a lot of highlights. Of course, most of Chautauqua County could fit the bill.
The article goes on to say: "The idea of people who uproot and move when they retire conjures up images of warm, sunny Florida or Arizona. But some of the older members of the Baby Boomer generation [the millions of Americans born between 1946 and 1964] are looking elsewhere, and at a number of towns in cooler climates from Maine to Washington." The article then mentions some alternatives, but we're going to mention all of Chautauqua County. Fill in your town or city here.
Mary Lou Abbott, editor of the magazine, Where to Retire says that boomers and retirees are considering a much wider range of destinations for retirement, often choosing states that don't readily come to mind. Even though the Sun Belt remains popular, many people prefer the four-season climate and enjoy the changing of the seasons. They seek towns that are safe and have active, appealing downtown areas, as well as good hospitals nearby. They are increasingly looking for places with lower costs of living and lower overall tax rates (we need to work on our tax rate).
The article also says skiing facilities draw people. Also a draw are downtown areas that have stores and restaurants that are locally owned. They want low crime rates and high education levels. They are talking about us. They are looking for us. We need to make it easy for them to find us.
Now I'm going to share with you a letter from my son Dan. Here's the letter:
I keep thinking about how Fredonia and Chautauqua County should be trying to appeal to retirees. I was hoping this could be presented to the village and county officials along with the new president of the college. Funds might even be available under the "I Love New York" and other economic development programs. It could be a coordinated effort between the college, towns, Chautauqua Institution, vacation properties, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.
It might be possible for the Alumni Association to insert promotional material in their mailings to alumni across the country.
A "Rediscover Chautauqua County" (or just Fredonia or combine Fredonia and Dunkirk) campaign to get college alumni to consider coming to the area for summer vacations would be a starter. The Alumni are familiar with the area during the colder months - come see the area in the summer. This will be a new experience.
Promote the natural attractions of the area: Miles of sandy beaches from Van Buren to Point Gratiot, swimming, fishing, sailing, canoeing, hiking trails, campsites, Panama Rocks, etc. Then we have the cultural attractions: Chautauqua Institution, the college itself, art galleries, musical events from concerts in the park to recitals on campus.
Present Fredonia as Mayberry (from the "Andy Griffith Show") but with a college and cultural amenities. Promote the relaxed ambiance of the town - local restaurants, local shops, farmers' markets, etc.
In addition to the regular "Homecoming" in the fall during the school year, have a "Come Back Home" campaign in the summer for college alumni, enticing them with low-cost accommodations. Local hoteliers could give perks to those who make early reservations. Then hopefully, those alumni will have such a good time that they will tell their friends about their experiences and they'll all come back again.
Promote some things that the alumni might not have been aware of while they were attending college, such as the Chautauqua Institution, campsites, and the beaches. Promote day trips: trips to Buffalo for sporting, recreational, and cultural events, trips to Niagara Falls, to places in Jamestown like the Lucille Ball museum, and other related activities.
This is not just a "feel good" project. It involves cold, hard cash. If the program can get more alumni to visit in the summers, they might come back in the fall for the fall foliage tours. If you can get them to establish a relationship with the area, they might be more likely to visit more often, stay longer, and thus spend more time and money. Some may even decide to relocate to the area. Some may decide to take advantage of the Incubator (on Central Avenue in Dunkirk) and move their businesses here, or start a new business in the area.
Alumni have money. Those who are still working may be in management positions or decision-making positions. Many of those who are retired have discretionary income to spend in the area. They have time to become involved in community programs and activities.
Now would be a good time to start working on this. Create the format and organization for this project so that the campaign will be ready by late winter, in order to promote the area as a spring and summer destination.
This is a start. Now we need our volunteers. We need people who have computer smarts (how about some skilled retirees?). We need hotel owners or seasonal house and room renters (could you make some extra cash by renting out your extra living space?). How about realtors? We also need promotional writers - movers and shakers, idea people, organizers, helpers. How about bus companies to plan day tours? Travel agencies? Let's get restaurants on board. Let's not hide our light under a bushel barrel! Remember a leader is only as good as his followers. Alone he is nothing! I will hold an open meeting at 17 White St., Fredonia, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16. Call 679-4772 if you're interested. Together we can make a difference.
Margaret Valone is a Fredonia resident. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org