The forest is closed. The Rodeo-Chediski fire has left a scar the size of Los Angeles on northern Arizona's most valued resource. The Tonto Natural Bridge will be closing.
And according to Scott Flake, some of Payson's businesses particularly those which cater to visitors are seeing declines in sales of as much as 50 percent.
"We've been hit by a lot of things, and that's why we feel the timing is really good for this branding project," said Flake, director of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation and head of the Arizona Rim Country Branding Committee. "Getting our image out there is more important now than it ever has been before."
Compared to all the other steps the project has taken over the past nine months including the official selection of Payson's new brand name, "Arizona Rim Country" "getting it out there," or turning the brand into a household phrase, presents the greatest challenges.
"For the brand to be effective, it needs to be thoroughly integrated into our community," Flake said. "The goal is to become the best 'Arizona Rim Country' we can be; to define our region's identity while promoting tourism, our economic development, and our cultural heritage."
Two weeks ago, Flake and his branding-committee team met with about 30 community leaders and residents to brainstorm promotional ideas. One was to create a banner, complete with the new "Arizona Rim Country" logo, to hang in the Rim Country Middle School evacuation center, so that it would be seen by the many TV-news cameras broadcasting from the facility during the peak of the fire crisis.
Another was to create caps, T-shirts and lapel pins bearing the logo to put on sale and on prominent display in businesses throughout the area.
The Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce boasts not only a hefty supply of Arizona Rim Country caps and T-Shirts, but there's also a large Arizona Rim Country banner draped on the building's south side and, as you enter the place, an Arizona Rim Country floor mat under foot.
"There's actually a local business, an investment company, that's talking about changing its name to include the new brand name," Flake said. "We've also had some of the real estate companies ask about putting the logo on their 'for sale' signs. And we're encouraging local businesses to use the logo in their brochures, flyers and menus. The whole key to branding is repetition, repetition, repetition."
As far as promoting the brand name beyond Payson, Flake said, it will be incorporated in all of the chamber's tourism advertising and promotional efforts ... but, for now, that's about it.
"The biggest problem is lack of funding," Flake said. "But we're going to be submitting a grant to the Arizona Department of Commerce, and we hope that will open up more opportunities."
No matter what happens with the grant, however, "this project will hopefully go on and on and on," Flake said. "Every business in this area wants a bigger slice of the pie and the whole goal of the Arizona Rim Country project is to work with the whole community to increase the size of the pie."
If you have any questions about the Arizona Rim Country Branding Committee's project, call Scott Flake at 468-6659.