CADILLAC — Northern Michigan has a bright new spotlight on it thanks to a new website and social media campaign that highlights two Wexford County cities in particular.
The website, explore131north.org, is part of an effort by several Northern Michigan communities located along the U.S. 131 highway to collaborate on tourism promotions, branding, and economic development in the hopes of bringing more visitors and business opportunities to the corridor.
Explore 131 North is a grassroots initiative started in 2016 that is spearheaded by government and community leaders from several communities along U.S. 131, including Cadillac, Manton, Fife Lake, Kalkaska, Mancelona, Boyne Valley, Walloon Lake, and Petoskey.
Early on, the group teamed up with the community development agency Networks Northwest for planning and facilitation assistance.
According to a press release from Networks Northwest, as a backbone in the region, “U.S. 131 struggles with a lack of economic opportunity in many of its smaller rural communities — particularly compared to larger waterfront cities along the coast. Having experienced some of the same community issues, they have realized that working together to promote the region will help more than competing individually.‘
While some communities have chambers of commerce or visitor bureaus, others lack those resources, so earlier this year the group contracted with Bit Social Media.
The digital marketing firm based in Cadillac will create and manage a strategic online campaign to reach new audiences and bring new visitors to the area.
“We have been very pleasantly surprised to discover all the unique characteristics within each of the communities over the last several months,‘ said Lindsey Westdorp, owner at Bit Social Media. “We’re excited to be able to share a variety of these assets on behalf of the group knowing that it will have a direct impact on their growth and economic progress.‘
The new explore131north.org website and a social media presence will both be supported by paid digital advertising as well as branded print assets.
Each community paid a “buy-in‘ cost to participate in the initiative, with the city of Cadillac and Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau sharing that cost.
Features of the website include a travel blog, featured lodging, dining, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and signature events — all of which highlight places to visit that are typically known only to locals.
Westdorp said after the efforts to promote tourism have launched, the group will then be working specifically on a second phase — economic development.
“There are so many reasons not to just visit these towns, but then come back and buy a house or start a business as well,‘ Westdorp said. “We can’t wait to share what we already know with others who have never slowed down or stopped to explore these smaller towns.‘
The Explore 131 North initiative arose out of the U.S. 131 economic development strategy, “A Framework for Growth and Investment along the US-131 Corridor‘.
Created in 2016, the report states, “The mix of manufacturing and tourism industries within the region provides opportunities for a thriving year-round economy that leverages a high quality of place to attract new industry.‘