A media-savvy placemaking campaign called "Uncork Paw Paw" earned top honors as the Region 2 Community Excellence Award winner, at the Region 2 League Tour stop in East Lansing on Friday, May 20.

According to Paw Paw Village Manager Larry Nielsen, the community decided to build on its sense of place as a wine country destination, by launching a market and cluster analysis to identify a target audience and devise an effective strategy for promoting the region. At the same time, they created a proactive support system for new entrepreneurship and existing businesses, giving out more than $400,000 in grants in the past three years for everything from education and training to building facade and interior improvements.

The marketing analysis determined there are about 54,000 homes within 20 minutes of Paw Paw, and 114,000 within 30 minutes. They used that data to build an effective marketing strategy that reached 79 percent of 2010 festival attendees in the target region outside the Paw Paw zip code. Paw Paw's annual schedule of lakeside concerts and blockbuster events include an annual Wine & Harvest Festival, Harvest Moon Exgtravaganza, Art Hop and a vintage ball club. It has all added up to create a unique sense of place in Paw Paw as a wine country destination. The result: Paw Paw has added 27 new businesses, with another 43 renovated or expanded.

In receiving the award, Nielsen said he was gratified but more importantly, hoped it would serve as a do-able example for other communities seeking to build a sense of place based on their own unique assets.

"The recognition by your peers is always nice, but what I'm really excited about is that this is the type of program that many communities can easily do to capitalize on their assets, and find the same great success that we have," said Nielsen.

Paw Paw competed against five other impressive projects: the city of Adrian's "Rebirth of a Downtown" detailed the historic rise, fall and rebirth of the city's downtown; Coldwater presented its Connections Art Festival, a month-long series of events and programs that show the rewards of cultural economic development; Delhi Charter Township showed a video detailing how "Greening Delhi" has included a state-of-the-art biomass converter, aggressive and comprehensive recycling programs and other front-line green initiatives; Mason's city staff proudly presented its new city hall, the city's first truly "green" municipal building; and Tecumseh offered "Lean and Mean," an innovative, low-cost program to engage the community's youth by giving them cameras to shoot images of the community's best and worst features, then using that to launch a series of initiatives.

"Each project has its own merits so it's very, very difficult to choose," said League Board President and Alpena Mayor Carol Shafto, in praising the impressive array of presentations.

Paw Paw will now go on to compete against the other six regional winners for the statewide CEA at the League's Annual Convention Oct. 4-7 in Grand Rapids.

Check back later for more Tour news on the Region 2 Education Seminar!

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