A group of three high school students have jumped aboard a community branding campaign whose goal is to make sure local businesses continue to thrive.
Graham Peterson, Abby Blank and Matthew Carlsen, who will be seniors next year at Alexandria Area High School, are some of the people behind the Pride of the Lakes campaign, an effort to get residents to buy goods and services locally.
Pride of the Lakes was launched recently with several presentations to area groups, newspaper and radio advertisements, videos shown during movie previews and social media outlets. The campaign's website, prideofthelakes.com, allows users to scroll through testimonials of local business owners and see why they support buying locally.
But most importantly on the website, both individuals and business owners are encouraged to "take the pledge" - committing to support the Alexandria Lakes Area and Douglas County. Individuals can take the pledge for free and business owners can pledge for $100, getting a link to their website and bi-monthly newsletters.
Blank said the fee for business owners makes for more of a commitment. Contributions such as these are the only source of revenue the campaign receives.
The students are involved in DECA, a competitive business club focused on giving students experience with marketing, finance, hospitality and management. The three had already been working on a public relations project through this club when they became interested in doing a project outside of their school.
Their marketing class, taught by Megan Jacob, introduced the group to the campaign and the three students jumped on board. It appealed to them because they wanted to make a difference in the community where they live, Peterson said.
Tara Bitzan, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, helped set these students on the right path, meeting regularly with them and bringing ideas to life. She said a main concern was recent business closings in the area.
The group focused Pride of the Lakes around wanting to build pride in the community and increasing the number of people working to make it better. The campaign is meant to appeal to all ages, and its goal is "to create something people want to be a part of," Bitzan said.
The campaign - a combined project of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, Explore Alexandria Tourism, the Downtown Merchants Association, the city of Alexandria and the Chamber of Commerce - is beginning to produce signs of change.
"People are starting to say, 'What's this all about?' They want to know more," Bitzan said. Spreading awareness of reasons to buy locally is a step in reaching success.
"Buying locally isn't something high schoolers really think about," Peterson said. But after just a few showings of the group's video at Midway 9 Theatre, he said, people began to recognize him as one of the people who appeared in the video.
The group - which took second place in DECA at state with the project - plans to give more presentations, hand out brochures and hang up posters in their school during their senior year to encourage fellow youth to start thinking about buying locally.
Peterson said his own generation can have a large impact on the future by giving back to the community, and believes the group is really lucky to have this opportunity.
Peterson and Blank are planning on attending college and hoping for future careers in marketing. When they graduate high school, Bitzan said it is uncertain if the students' roles will be replaced with future students. However, she still wants to keep the campaign going and sees no end to it.
Pride of the Lakes is being split into three phases. Through October, the focus will be on business progress. Over the next eight-week period the group will examine business affairs for the holidays. Phase three will begin in January, a time when businesses see a decline in sales and rely more on support from residents than tourists.