By Gwynn Stewart, OSU Extension Community Development Educator
In an effort to promote community self-awareness and provide tools for community planning and goal setting, and as a member of the Appalachian Byway of Ohio, the Noble County Chamber of Commerce and CVB requested that Ohio State University Extension, Noble County Community Development program assist with the Caldwell First Impressions program. The program helps community leaders assess the impact of their efforts to be an attractive community to shoppers, tourists, business travelers and to potential employers.
First Impressions provides an opportunity to discover a first-time visitor’s image of a community. A visitation team from another community tours your community and reports their impression based on a number of criteria that includes cleanliness, access to and availability of services, physical appearance and friendliness. The Caldwell project was completed in cooperation with West Virginia University Extension, and the city of New Martinsville, WV.
Led by OSU Extension Community Development Educator Gwynn Stewart, Caldwell developed a project team that included Allen Fraley, Noble Chamber & CVB; Commissioner Brad Peoples; Caldwell Village Councilman, Jeff Minosky; Business owner Richard Rutherford, who is also a member of the Noble Co. CIC & Chamber Board and Riley Clark, a 4-Her and a junior at Shenandoah High School.
The Caldwell team visited New Martinsville and provided photos and a written report. The New Martinsville team visited Caldwell and did the same. The two groups finalized the program recently with a virtual recap conversation and information sharing session.
“The Noble Chamber and CVB wanted an absolutely honest and unbiased view of our community from an outsider coming in for the first time,” Chamber Executive Director Allen Fraley, said. “We wanted to take what they saw and use it for the future betterment of the community.” This is already beginning to occur with support from the mayor of Caldwell, Misty Wells and from the Noble County Historical Society volunteers.
“Our New Martinsville team enjoyed Caldwell’s historic look and feel, and that the history hasn’t been forgotten or destroyed,” Valerie Piko, a team volunteer, said. “We felt like it was straight out of a Hallmark movie.” Piko added they enjoyed visiting the True Value store, the Chamber, and learning more about the area’s “Big Foot” sighting – adding that some signage explaining the story would help future guests.
While there are many positive takeaways for Caldwell, there are also many ideas for improvement such as needed wayfinding signage, storefront updates, painting, clean-up and seeing the downtown vacant buildings as a future opportunity for a coffee or ice cream shop, brewery, loft apartments and more.
For more information on the First Impressions program, contact Gwynn Stewart at 740-305-3177 or firstname.lastname@example.org.