Monterey partners with TTU Center for Rural Innovation to promote area

By KATE COIL

TML Communications Specialist

Monterey officials and citizens are collaborating with Tennessee Tech students on a new initiative to brand and market the town and its surrounding natural beauty.

Monterey Cultural Administrator Rafferty Cleary said work on the project began not long after he took the position with the town in March 2020 as a way to capitalize on the town’s assets.

“I immediately started meeting with folks from the chamber of commerce and the Highlands Economic Partnership, and through these meetings, they mentioned Tennessee Tech’s Rural Reimagined program,” Cleary said. “I was already familiar with what the program was doing in Jackson County. They got me in touch with the Tennessee Tech Center for Rural Innovation, and the folks from there came up here.”

The Tennessee Tech Center for Rural Innovation (TCRI) is a U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center program that provides technical assistance within the tourism, technology, innovation, retail, and agriculture sectors of rural areas. Cleary said, through TRCI, Monterey residents and Tennessee Tech students have come together to create branding and a marketing strategy for the town.

“Part of our strategy was developing a community coalition to help launch the initiative,” he said. “I selected some former mayors, business owners, a couple of aldermen, and Monterey citizens. About 15 of us started meeting once a month in August. Monterey needed to come together on who we are and what we have to offer. I don’t think that had really been done before. What do we have, and how can we draw folks in were our main objectives. We had to find out why people wanted to visit Monterey.”

Together, the group came up with a list of local assets they hope will not only draw in regional visitors but those from out of state as well.

“We have a lot to offer when it comes to the outdoors,” Cleary said. “The city took ownership of the Bee Rock Overlook a little over a year ago. We have been in the process of using grant funds to put restrooms and other things out there. We also have hundreds of acres at Meadow Creek Park, which is town-owned. There is rock climbing access there and at Bee Rock that are known nationwide but have never really been promoted. There is a nearly 100-acre lake at Meadow Creek Park where we have recently built hiking trails.”

Students from Tennessee Tech have designed branding material, conducted research, and helped with marketing strategies on the project. The students, in turn, gain real world experience they can use in future careers. Clearly said the results students are producing for free would have easily cost the town thousands of dollars had they hired a professional marketing firm instead.

“One of the students is from Uganda, and he has been doing some qualitative and quantitative research based on surveys done by the coalition,” Cleary said. “He helped us come up with a vision statement, a mission statement, and a values proposition statement based on responses. I think it’s neat because this is a student in grad school who is doing this project to put on a resume and hopefully land a big job in a few years. The fact that Monterey has the ability to put him on a career path is really neat. We have had tons of other students involved as well. The creation of a new logo for the town is being done by graphic design students at Tech. There are all these different young minds coming together for us.”

Most of all, Cleary said the project has brought Monterey residents from all walks of life together to share the common love of their town.

“You have a group of people who all love Monterey, and the really cool thing is seeing the community coming together,” he said. “You think people have different views of what Monterey is, but when you put everything together on paper, you see there is one central goal. All these people have come together to make Monterey a better place not just for folks in the local community but also for visitors.”

Cleary said the next steps are to take the branding package to the Monterey Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve and to start implementing strategies and marketing campaigns based on the work done through the Rural Reimagined program.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned is that we’ve got a lot to offer when it comes to the outdoors, so we have to be progressive in making those places accessible to the public and get the word out to them,” he said. “When you start really doing this, you see Monterey has a lot of potential. We just have to use what we have and do it efficiently. This might be one of the most beneficial things this town has done in many, many years because it’s helped us realize our potential.”