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Create a “Rural Chamber of Commerce”

Most cities and towns have a chamber of commerce to promote area businesses. So why don’t rural folks band together to do the same?

Most cities and towns have a chamber of commerce to promote area businesses. So why don’t rural folks band together to do the same?

Landowners in northwest Nebraska have done just that. They’ve teamed together to market more than just livestock from their land. They are also tapping rural tourism to create additional year-round revenue for their operations. And, to help promote their efforts they’ve created their own rural chamber of commerce called the Northwest Nebraska High Country.

Set amidst the southern out-cropping of the Black Hills, their region is rich with scenery, wildlife and cowboy and Indian lore. What are they selling? There are the expected types of ranch-related activities such as hunting, working ranch getaways and trail rides. But there are also some surprises – star gazing, bird watching, railroad photography, and fossil hunting.

Yes, people will pay money for all of those experiences, according to Jim Lees, who has a cow/calf operation near Whitney, NE, but also operates ranch rides and presents cowboy poetry and history programs during the summer months at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford, NE.

Lees is a charter member of Northwest Nebraska High Country. The group includes twenty-some landowners in the northwest corner of Nebraska who work together to promote rural tourism activities in their region. Each of the dues-paying members owns rural related-businesses and benefits from the group promotion. They have a website as their primary tool to attract visitors from around the globe.

And, as the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” Lees reports that he and other members of their promotional organization have entertained visitors from all across the United States, Europe and many other countries. They are particularly busy during hunting season – with no rooms available at any of the ranch or bed and breakfast lodges.

“We have all looked at the resources we have and found ways to add value,” says Lees. He adds that people from urban areas are interested in experiencing a piece of rural life. It’s surprising, but he says, “People are looking for remoteness. You can sell that…The key is to capture those values and convert them to dollars.”

If you are interested in developing rural tourism within your area, Lees offers these tips:

First he says to evaluate what resources you have. Consider scenery, wildlife, wildflowers, birds, plants, etc.

Second, find others to work with. Lees says, “Two heads are certainly better than one and three are even better.” Working together simply multiplies the number of ideas and opportunities you can identify.

He adds that by networking with others in your region you can add more services for visitors, which may ultimately keep them in your area longer and contribute more dollars. For instance, one business may specialize in lodging, another in catering or food, and still another in tours and entertainment. “Tourism is more profitable if you can keep visitors in the area for multiple days,” says Lees.

Another perk of working together or forming an organization is that there can be some group liability insurance benefits.

Third, invest in the Internet to help promote your business. As well, word of mouth tends to be one of the best tactics for building business, says Lees.

He concludes, “The goal is to provide high quality experiences. Our organization is committed to old fashioned values – and that sells. The key is to recognize the resources you have and increase their value.”

As an added benefit, Lees emphasizes that by getting the non-ag public out on to real ranch land provides an opportunity to educate them about the conservation and stewardship practices of ranchers. And, hopefully, that will create important support for the open space and land management that ranchers can provide.

For more about this rural chamber of commerce.