There was a time when small Kansas communities and counties flocked to the state fair to promote themselves by setting up booths and distributing materials, but with tight budgets and minimal returns, few do so today.
However, Marion County as a tourist destination will be promoted to fairgoers through a collaboration of south central Kansas groups.
“Tourism is a part of economic development, bringing people and outside funds in,” Marion County economic development director Teresa Huffman said. “It’s a great opportunity for small areas to promote their community.
“When I came eight years ago, Marion County Economic Development Council used to do the state fair, but it got too expensive, and they didn’t do it.”
South Central Kansas Tourism Region is a membership group of economic developers, convention and tourism bureaus, chambers of commerce, and tourist destinations. Marion County, Marion, and Hillsboro are members.
“It would be very difficult for a small community to pay what it costs for the booth fee and then work it for 10 days from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Huffman said. “We’re all too small to man it 10 days, so we split it up. We promote the whole region.”
Even though it’s a regional effort, Huffman said volunteers get to highlight their communities while they are working the booth.
“Whoever is working it gets to have some of their own personal items from their area, so we promote the whole region and specifically our region when we work,” she said. “I’ll have our visitors guide there, and we promote the reservoir and the lake. We’ll have information about the art and craft festivals in Hillsboro and Marion coming up.”
Huffman said she does more than hand people brochures.
“We visit with people and see what they’re interested in,” she said. “I have them contact me afterward.”
The tourism group provides similar opportunities for other events, such as the recent Kansas Sampler Festival in Wamego.
“I could belong to other groups, but I don’t unless there’s a clear benefit to Marion County to do so,” Huffman said. “This one definitely benefits us.”