West Virginia is a lot like Detroit. People have such low expectations of my city, that when they visit they walk away impressed and with lots of great stories to share with their family and friends about how amazing Detroit actually is.
In fact, when I served as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to the Mayor, I would receive calls for international press wanting to ride along a fire truck or police car to see first-hand the chaos they heard about or read about years earlier. I declined their offer and tried to shape a new narrative for them to experience.
I recently returned from a family vacation in West Virginia and I have to admit, my expectations for what I expected were just as low as the foreign press visit to Detroit.
Like most travelers, we came to your state to ride the rapids. We stayed a week and I could've spent all summer. There is so much to see and do in West Virginia, that my family did not even skim the surface.
Just a seven hour drive to Raleigh County, we do not hear much about West Virginia, here in Michigan, but I know you hear a lot about us, thanks to Tim Allen and our state's Pure Michigan campaign.
It's no wonder why we don't when the state legislature failed to pass a budget bill containing any money to fund a marketing campaign to promote the state, in addition to finding for fairs and festivals.
While many legislatures grapple with this line item, promoting a state's natural resources and other attractions brings people into the state to sleep in hotels, eat in restaurants, shop in your stores and otherwise pay additional taxes that residents would not normally incur. It also does something extremely powerful. It turns people like me into advocates for your state, encouraging others to visit, and makes West Virginians proud of where they live.
Every time I hear a Pure Michigan ad I get inspired and feel proud to live in such a wonderful state. On Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I am liking and sharing images of pristine beaches along the shores of The Great Lakes, the rocky cliffs off of Lake Superior and amazing city views from around Detroit.
I recently returned from a camping trip in Zion National Park and last year, a white water rafting trip in Colorado. While both states are beautiful, West Virginia is equally picturesque and less than a days drive from my front door.
As a Michiganian, I am inundated with some of the same messages you are with Tim Allen sharing with me all the great things Michigan offers, as Pure Michigan. In addition to ads from the state, we are inundated with ads from Traverse City, Petoskey, MI, Grand Rapids, MI and the Upper Peninsula, not to mention ads promoting Ohio's North Coast.
As a family, we have spent summers in Northern Michigan and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We spend a week on Ohio's Lake Erie Shore and we spend time in Northern Ontario, two hours north of Ontario in the Muskoka Region. I get to all these places in the same time it takes me to get to Raleigh County, if not less. In fact, in a seven hour drive from my home outside Detroit, I can reach Munising, Michigan, Huntsville, Ontario, the Finger Lakes in New York and Daniels, West Virginia.
When state government fails, the business community must step in to fill the gap and fund a tourism campaign promoting the state and its natural wonders. If the West Virginia Legislature fails to properly fund travel and talent promotions, it is up to the organization's such as the Raleigh County West Virginia Travel and Tourism or the Beckley Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau to collaborate with other organizations such as the Pocahontas County CVB or Mason County Tourism, to host the travel media to show off what makes West Virginia Wild and wonderful, or find the resources to create your own ad campaign, without the official help of the state. For the state it is not too late. There is still time to promote West Virginia in a way that will bring people in. It is the time to work collectively to shatter expectations and show people like me what makes West Virginia wonderful or #AlmostHeaven.
As summer comes to a close, we have already planned next year's summer vacation in ... West Virginia.