Highland Resident Attraction Program

Josh Umar, Youth and Community Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center in Monterey, is an exception to an unfortunate rule – he and his wife are a young couple who relocated away from an urban area to Highland County. It’s no secret that Highland’s population is steadily declining, even as the average age of residents rises. Mr. Umar spoke with us recently about a project he leads at The Center aiming to reverse this trend.

“The Resident Attraction Program, that we’ve been working on with experts at The Center For Rural Entrepreneurship. This project, of retaining and attracting new residents, especially entrepreneurial residents, people who are looking to come here and start a business, has been going on for the better part of a year now, and we’ve been working with an expert named Craig Schroeder, who’s come to the county several times now, met with a lot of people, done conference calls, he’s done Skype sessions – and overall, at this point, we’ve engaged more than 150 community members, to get their thoughts. On what they think we have to offer as a county, what they’re proud of, what their challenges are, and I think we’ve gotten a really good sense of what the elements are to brand and market the county to those entrepreneurial residents.

“The theme that rose to the top, from those discussions with Highland residents, was this idea that Highland County is a place where you can experience “elevated living.” We realły like that, and we like that it has come from community. People tend to immediately pick up on the idea that there’s a literal aspect to it – you know, we’ve got mountains, and we’re elevated. But there’s also a really nice aspirational aspect to it, where it’s about elevating yourself, and elevating your life, and really sort of plays on the idea of Highland County as a benchmark, and a retreat and an escape, from the heat and the city bustle, and all,of those things

He spoke about the next steps, and who the project hopes to attract.

“Well, the next step is to develop some very authentic marketing materials for the county, and those will be a variety of print and online, videos, also social media. But, the idea there is that we want to be as authentic as we can, and really represent the county. We don’t want people to get the idea that when we say elevated living, we mean faster or higher energy. We want people to understand life in Highland County can be elevated in that way that I was talking about, but it’s also very grounded. And we want to attract people who are going to be happy here.

“We’re not going to exclude anyone, but the target market itself is probably going to be youngish people – I would say in the age range of, say, 20-45. People who are, right now, probably in a more suburban or urban area, like Richmond, Charlottesville. And there’s people that want to come here and farm, and we’ll reach to those people. And there’s also people who, because of technology now, can run a business or work remotely, so we’d like to reach to those folks too.

“The impetus behind this is, that as everybody’s aware, we’ve had an outflow of young people,from the county, and a decrease in the population of the county for a while, that has put pressures on the tax base and the school system, and has created a variety of other problems, and so that’s part of what we’re trying to address. Our goal is ultimately to bring people here who we think will fit, and who will love it here, and who will stay here for a long time, and again, raise kids and put them in the school system, and can start a business and contribute to the tax base, and be a full fledged member of the community.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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