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Marketing Sells Ohio Valley

February 23, 2011

WHEELING - Whether it's the area's tourism industry or attracting new business and industry, local officials say there is plenty to get excited about when marketing the Ohio Valley.

Frank O'Brien, executive director of The Wheeling Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau is working on "cutting-edge technology" to help promote tourism in the Wheeling area. He said the bureau is putting a lot of time and effort into making sure "The Wheeling Story" is being told throughout the region.

O'Brien said the bureau currently is working on an application for use with Smart Phones and new tablet computers.

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"It will be a Wheeling application that can be downloaded for free to all these phones," said O'Brien. "We are going to be the lead on it because we think it is a wonderful tool to attract visitors, but it will also be a tool for local people."

He said the bureau believes it is just a few months away from implementing the new technology.

"The cool thing about it - it is actually being developed by a Wheeling-based company, so we're very excited about being able to work with Wheeling future thinkers - to continue to get the story out," he added.

Fact Box

How well do local agencies market the area's tourist attractions?

Very well - and local convention and visitors bureaus are every bit as concerned about marketing to local residents as they are to folks from outside the area. The Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, for example, markets the Capitol Theatre and other local attractions throughout the Upper Ohio Valley.

O'Brien said he believes his organization is working with some good partners in the community and he feels very positive about the amount of support the agency continues to receive from local government and community leaders.

Olivia Litman, marketing director for the Wheeling Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she also believes there has been good communication between local government and community leaders.

"From a tourism standpoint - which is what we can really see an impact from - we see an increase of people coming here not only from the Pittsburgh market but from Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, and Canton ... and that's due to the marketing efforts that we're doing in those targeted places," she said.

Litman said she receives positive feedback from people living in those areas, which enforces the idea that the visitors bureau and others in the community are doing something right.

O'Brien said he believes the Capitol Theatre is a prime example of some of the success the local community has recently experienced.

"I think the Capitol can be used as an example. If people come together and work together it can be a success, and we're in it for the long run," O'Brien said.

He believes the "numbers" on the Capitol Theatre are going to indicate that it was the right decision and it is an important piece of the puzzle to help drive visitors to the downtown area.

He said the convention and visitors bureau not only promotes tourism to the area, but it also promotes quality of life here in the valley.

"We try to enhance the quality of life for the people that live here ... which is why we are involved with the Capitol Theatre. Certainly the Capitol Theatre will attract visitors, but it is for the local people."

Don Rigby, executive director of Regional Economic Development Partnership, an organization that provides both marketing and business relocation services for Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties, said his agency does general marketing with site consultants and some target marketing. He said RED has also done direct mailings to some larger cities.

"We specifically target companies, and we sort of go city by city," Rigby said while talking about some of the marketing strategies RED implements.

Rigby said he believes the valley has a lot to offer. He said the rapidly growing Marcellus Shale natural gas play is just one area RED has been concentrating on.

"We see tremendous activity in the Marcellus gas drilling. The investment numbers are truly staggering on what people are investing ... So we are seeing a great amount of investment, jobs are beginning to follow that, and we see some real positive things there," he added.

Rigby said he believes the valley has many different assets that help attract new business and industry to the area. Great location is just one of those assets, Rigby said.

Rigby said RED has a solid relationship with local officials.

"We work very closely with the cities and the counties and they partner with us in all of those moves as we market the region," he added.

Belmont County Development Director Sue Douglass said she believes the "gift of geography" is just one aspect that markets the Ohio Valley.

"We have a very attractive geographical location, so you put that together with the amenities here, the natural resources and all those things, you have a real head start on some of the marketing that maybe some other places don't have," Douglass said.

She said the area's interstate system and rail access are also very valuable assets. "The river is such a particularly important aspect to economical development," she added.

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