By Marianne Coil
In his first year promoting Johnson County as a place of tourist attractions, Kenneth Kosky learned to stop talking about Johnson County – a necessary paradox in the world of marketing.
During his tenure as public relations director for the tourism agency in Porter County, Kosky met Roger Brooks, an internationally known branding expert who consulted with local officials. Kosky said Brooks told them no one goes to a county for a vacation.
For example, campers go to Yellowstone National Park but don’t even know which county it’s in. Thus, in appreciation of local geography, the Porter County group changed its name to Indiana Dunes Tourism, Kosky said.
When he became tourism director for the Johnson County Convention, Visitor and Tourism Commission in April 2017, Kosky was in charge of “Journey Johnson County.” He called in Brooks, and his advice was to identify what local residents liked about their communities and to rebrand the program by targeting a unique feature.
“The first order of business was to tap the people who have the knowledge,” Kosky said. He inquired of almost everyone he met, “What’s your favorite thing about Johnson County?”
Kicking around names, the commission settled on Festival Country Indiana. “What we finally came down to was that every weekend, there’s something going on,” he said.
Collecting anecdotal evidence is critical to the promotional effort. Kosky compiles Top 10 lists in various categories and uses social media to publish the results. Destinations are rated by contributors.
Some lists are for types of food, such as the Top 10 places for treats. Another is for tenderloins. Kosky singled out long-time volunteer Don Cummings, who went with his daughter to many restaurants to rate the tenderloins. The pair came up with a Top 10 list that has an extra spot.
To assist in the development of new attractions, the campaign has given grants to 11 organizations staging events and after the award of seed money, the financial support will phase out over time.
“If we’re going to be Festival Country Indiana, we need a robust line-up,” he said, explaining the reason for the grants totaling $27,000.
This Saturday, one of the recipients, the Johnson County Public Library, will stage the Little Library on the Prairie Festival at the Trafalgar branch. With activities and booths inside and on the grounds, the pioneer festival will offer music, crafts, storytelling and a pie-baking contest.
Tourism products in the planning stages include the construction of extreme sports parks, and the scheduling of musical entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights from June to September in the downtown districts of Johnson County cities and towns.
A graduate of Portage High School and Ball State University, Kosky was a reporter for the Vidette-Messenger and the Times of Northwest Indiana for 22 years, before he joined Indiana Dunes Tourism, where he worked for over six years. He and his wife, Anicia, have a son, Ian, who is a student at Culver Military Academy.
For more information about destinations in Johnson County, visit festivalcountryindiana.com.
Little Library Festival
The Trafalgar branch of the Johnson County Public Library is welcoming a blacksmith, a storyteller named Daniel Boone, folk bands, choral singers, and competitive pie bakers this Saturday, June 9.
The public is invited to the Little Library on the Prairie Festival from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 424 S. Tower St. in Trafalgar. Admission is free.
A native prairie with plants and shrubs surrounds the library, and exhibitors will have stations along the paths twisting through the prairie. Activities are planned for inside the building, too.
Public participation includes a homemade pie contest with winners announced at 4 p.m.
The festival will showcase aspects of life in the 1800s. Visitors can see demonstrations of pioneer and Native American crafts and antique farm implements will be on display.
The Freetown Village Singers will perform from 4 – 5 p.m. With a mix of singing and storytelling, the group interprets the meaning of songs heard at African-American gatherings over a century ago.
The festival is supported in part by a grant from Festival Country Indiana, the tourism agency of Johnson County government. Additional funding is from the Johnson County Public Library Foundation, Indiana Humanities, and a memorial gift honoring Evelyn Kocher.