Anytime a group desires to develop a vision for the future, several actions need to take place in order for the process to be successful. The first is to thoroughly assess the current state of affairs, and proceed from there to developing a list of items that are either lacking or are desired to be added at a later date. During this part of the process, an overall vision of the desired outcome is developed, and then specific elements and actions are identified that need to be accomplished in order to bring the desired strategy into fruition.
One industry sector that Sunnyside Incorporated is interested in enhancing is the tourism industry. The tourism industry is clean, provides both seasonal and year-around employment, and brings outside money into the Lower Valley. This is one industry that differs significantly from many of the others the region currently supports, so through enhancing this sector we can provide a measure of economic stability to our area.
Several ideas regarding the tourism industry in the Lower Yakima Valley have been defined by the Sunnyside Incorporated Board and Marketing Committee, community groups, regional groups, and the local Chamber of Commerce Committee. From these groups a continual call for tourism development is being made. So the question before us is: If we don't have "natural" tourism icons to identify with, why not create them? We believe that it is possible to create attractive features to highlight the abundant assets we have in the Lower Yakima Valley.
Two suggestions are:
1) The Yakima Basin Storage Alliance (YBSA) is engaged in soliciting continued support for building a water resource just north of Sunnyside. The Black Rock Reservoir project continues to gather momentum, along with private donations and state and federal funding. This project, once it becomes a reality, will provide a substantial recreation element as a part of it's utility. Highway 241 north in Sunnyside, exit 69 off of I-82, is one of the major gateways to Black Rock Reservoir. A coalition of local and regional individuals, businesses, and governments are committing funds to support the groundwork for Black Rock until permanent funding is secured. The strategic importance of the Black Rock Reservoir to the region can not be overemphasized. As retired Congressman Sid Morrison has stated regarding Black Rock: (It is) "...the best project in decades that we can all pull together for."
2) We live in Wine Country. We grow the grapes, make the wine, and communities from Yakima to Walla Walla recognize that this is Wine Country. In fact, many communities promote the fact that we are in Wine Country Washington. They recognize that through the promotion of the wine industry, value is added to their other products, as well as an upscale ambience is created for the region. This created perception of value can be used as an effective marketing tool, if we choose to promote and use it. Tourists visit our valley regularly as a result of our Wine Country designation, and to spend their dollars for local atmosphere and for local products. We need to consider supporting the efforts to take advantage of the Wine Country theme, regardless of what we produce, sell or create. Establishing a perception of high value in the tourists' minds as they visit our valley is the difficult part. Taking advantage of this through the offering of a variety of high quality products and services is the opportunity.
These two suggestions are ways that we can create tourism icons and attractions when there are few "natural" attractions. We need to look seriously at what these two economic generators will do for this region over time, and to start positioning ourselves to be able to support these projects. When successful, the quality and quantity of tourist expenditures will increase many-fold. All the local economies will prosper as a result.
One project that we can look at to see if it makes sense at this time is to reconsider if the Yakima Valley Highway should be renamed Wine Country Road. This is a big decision for the area to make, and will entail some cost, as new addresses and signage will need to be assigned and erected. Businesses will undergo expenses related to this for office supplies and promotional materials replacements. The long-term benefits to the communities along the highway may be huge over time. These will be realized from the promotion of the common theme, from the added-value to the products produced for export from the valley, and from the businesses that will come into being as a result of the created ambience.
The Sunnyside Incorporated Board believes that the benefits to the region will outweigh the costs that will be incurred, but solicits your input into this matter before it is brought to the public for formal consideration.
Marshall Doak is the executive director of Sunnyside Incorporated, an economic development agency established to promote growth in the Lower Yakima Valley.