Nichole Thurston Kirksey: Homegrown, World Renown — Sumter County

Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Just a little over a year ago I came to this community to lead the tourism department. After touring every corner of the county and meeting everyone who had their arm in some aspect of economic development, I sat down at my computer and attempted to come up with a strategy that would take our tourism efforts to the next level. There were five areas I knew needed addressing:
The Americus Welcome Center
Rebuilding relationships between Americus, Andersonville, Plains, Leslie, and Desoto
Creating tourism product to offer visitors through agri-tourism, African-American heritage, and our culinary scene
Increasing overnight stays
Creating a brand identity that linked each municipality
Though lofty, these goals were going to be the foundation the Americus-Sumter Tourism Council needed to accomplish in order to even begin telling our story to folks all over the region.

The first step: Figuring out who we were as a community. Each one of our municipalities has a very distinct personality with a unique story. How could we weave those stories together and find a common identity? We know this is done through branding — everything from colors we would choose, to the font we use, to the tagline that pulls it all together. Previously, the tourism department’s focus was on the city of Americus with the tagline being: Americus-Sumter County, Wish You Were Here. Though catchy and positive, it did not express the historical significance of who we are and what we are about.
Next we had to find the funding to rebrand and that’s where One Sumter came into play. Mary Beth Bass, executive director for One Sumter and her board of directors came up with various strategies to address some of the internal and external issues that needed attention in Sumter County. One goal was to illustrate the positive characteristics of the community. Instead of creating an internal brand through One Sumter and an external brand with Tourism, we came together to create one clear and consistent brand that would shine a light on how phenomenal it is to live, work, play, and visit Americus and Sumter County.
After six months of planning, researching, and coordinating, we came together and with the assistance and leadership from Arnett Muldrow & Associates. We were able to agree upon an identity that would help each tourism professional, economic development professional, and citizen tell the story of Americus and Sumter County.
What do we know for sure?
Dreams dreamt here are much bigger than this place. What we have tilled here has reverberated the country and around the world. We are ordinary, down-to-earth people who do extraordinary things.
We are a place where the complex history of a nation divided left a mark on our consciousness.
On this land, soldiers died who dreamt of a country united, while others defended the place they called home.
We are a place where communication connected rural Georgia residents across telephone lines that crisscrossed the country. It is here that a small company would connect a President from his hometown to the White House.
We are a place where time on the water means relaxation and escape from the everyday rigors of life. We are a fishing pole in the river, a dip in the pond, a cool refresher on a warm summer day.
It is here that the idea of shelter for people is a basic need that demands the love and unity of community. We are a people that take the idea that care for one another at home can translate into impacts for humanity.
We are a place where the towers and turrets of a downtown hotel are an architectural marvel and centerpiece of our city.
Our schools, college, and university bring innovators and leaders to teach future visionaries and trailblazers.
We tell our stories with a warmth and a smile.
We are an unpretentious place that continues to have a profound impact on all of us.
We are Georgia’s Sumter County.
Homegrown. World Renown.

Nicole Thurston Kirksey is director of tourism, City of Americus.