ALBANY – The Artesian Alliance took a major step from figurative to literal over the weekend during a daylong master planning retreat held at Chehaw.

The Artesian Alliance is a recently formed partnership between Chehaw Park and Zoo, the Flint RiverQuarium, and the Thronateeska Heritage Center. Stacey Ludlum, the founder and principal planner of Felis Consulting LLC, led the more than 20 board and staff members representing all three venues through a SWOT analysis of each venue as well as that of the alliance.

SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique used to help identify an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Ludlum told those assembled, “This will be a long process but will set the Artesian Alliance on a path to success.”

An organization’s strengths and weaknesses are, to a great degree, under the control and direction of the organization. It’s opportunities and threats are generally controlled or generated by outside sources.

During the session, the demographics of the population living within an hour and within three hours of the venues provided a breakdown of potential guests as these demographics relate to the visitation at parks and zoos, aquariums and museums. Factors such as race, age, income, family makeup and education were examined.

For example, baby boomers are the most prevalent age group that visits museums, while millennials are the most prevalent at zoos. Boomers made up the largest group of visitors without children, while Gen-X made up the largest group of family visitors.

Each organization has its own unique identity, and the goal of the alliance is not to make them homogeneous. However, there are many similarities that can lead to efficiencies of scale in manpower, marketing and fundraising. A number of staff positions have been unified, including Jackie Entz serving as education director and Samantha Sassone serving as animal curator for the alliance.

Although each organization is unique, many of the weaknesses and threats they face are uniform. Aging infrastructure in some cases dates back 85 years. The impact of regional demographics relating to economic and educational factors presents challenges as well.

Currently, the alliance is seeking input from residents and tourists through a survey to get a better vision of how the venues are not only perceived, but what people would like to experience in the future. This information allowed those participating in the workshop Saturday to see what visitors thought about the components of each attraction. Anyone interested in participating in the survey can do so at https://s.surveyplanet.com/-jWcaadDpO.

The alliance has a combined annual visitation of 157,000, with combined memberships exceeding 15,000. Obviously increasing these numbers is a focus of the new master plan. However, officials at the retreat said many other goals are equally important, including financial stability, higher tourist visitation and a more diverse visitor profile.

The joint meeting was the first opportunity for the three boards to meet in person since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the region. Between now and June, the master planning process will involve more visioning, as well as the development of a creative plan for each venue leading to a master plan for the alliance as a whole.

The goal of the master plan is to provide residents and visitors with unique experiences focusing on conservation, education, and recreation in a more efficient and memorable manner, leading to increased visitation by residents and tourists alike.

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