Venango County Program Urges Residents to ‘Be Here’

| January 27, 2020

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Helping to spread the word about the positive aspects of Venango County is the focus of a program called Be Here that is now entering its fourth year.

(Photo: Be Here Ambassadors provided by Be Here.)

Be Here is run through the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce. It came about after a conversation among members discussing negative comments they heard residents make about the area.

Battling negativity wasn’t something new for the chamber. Chamber President and CEO, Susan Williams created the Be Here program to take the issue head-on.

Ashley Sheffer stepped into the position as program manager three years ago and has helped it grow.

“We wanted to encourage people to be here physically,” she told exploreVenango.com. “That can mean move here or stay here. We also want them to mentally and emotionally be here and be involved with the community and talk positively about the area.”

As the program was coming together, chamber officials held focus groups with human resource managers to determine how to best launch the campaign.

“One of the things we hear is that there are no jobs here,” Sheffer explained.

The reality is that there are jobs available, finding the right people to fill them can be a problem, Sheffer said.

The survey also showed that half of the people who left the area and later returned did so because they had family in the area. Twenty-five percent of the respondents said it was a job that brought them back.

“We want to attract people to the area, but our best bet is people who have some kind of root here. It’s common sense. There has to be a reason to bring people back here. That reason is better if it’s family.”

People who move to the area without having roots have less to keep them here permanently.

Those who chose to return to Venango County also listed the area’s beauty, its affordable cost of living, outdoor recreation, friendliness, and safety as reasons for doing so.

The area’s challenges were identified as job availability, job satisfaction, retail and entertainment options, and a lack of diversity.

“We found that to get people who move here to want to stay here, we need to have a sense of community and a positive narrative.”

“Our focus is on attracting and keeping people here. At the end of the day, we’re working to change the narrative of the region. Nobody wants to stay here or move here if they’re in the coffee shop listening to people talk about how they don’t like it here,” Sheffer added.

The Be Here program trains ambassadors to help boost the area’s image to newcomers.

While they may not be able to keep people from speaking negatively about the area, they can offset such a conversation.

As an example, they can speak up if they hear somebody say there is nothing in the area to do and point out the area’s recreational opportunities.

There are about 50 ambassadors right now. More will begin training at the end of February, and Sheffer hopes to add about 20 new ambassadors.

During the training, potential ambassadors learn about the initiative and six points on which they should focus. Those points include knowing the message, being positive, being welcoming, and communicating with the Be Here program about what they see and hear in the community. There is also some role-playing.

“We have note cards of things people have actually said. Some of them are really negative. We practice what we would say in return to those comments,” Sheffer explained.

Find out more about being an ambassador here.

Sheffer also talks with students about community involvement and pride. She emphasized that “it’s okay to go away, but it’s also okay to come back. It’s also okay to want to stay in the area.” She encourages them to fully participate in the community.

The community extends throughout the county.

“We want people to have community pride, so if you’re from Oil City, Franklin, or Cranberry, we want you to love your town. But also recognize it’s important to work across the community, as well.”

Find out more about the Be Here program here.


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