The Hill City Chamber of Commerce honored its best and prepared for the summer tourism season at its annual business meeting and awards presentation last Thursday evening at High Country Guest Ranch.
Following a welcome and introduction from Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce director Janet Wetovick-Bily, chamber board president Jason Peters thanked Wetovick-Bily for her hard work, along with other employees at the Visitor Information Center (VIC). It was noted that the number of chamber members continues to rise, and more and more visitors continue to pour into the VIC. Wetovick-Bily told the gathered crowd of around 130 people that over 16,000 interactions took place at the VIC last year, which was up 4 percent from the previous year.
Wetovick-Bily called 2016 “notable,” and said the chamber remains fiercely dedicated to marketing and promoting Hill City.
March walk-ins at the VIC were double what they were in February, she said, and many leads are coming in from advertising, phone calls and email.
Media company Lawrence & Schiller then gave a presentation of the Hill City Peak 2017 Marketing Strategy, which it has been contracted to do by the chamber of commerce.
The presentation noted Hill City is noted for its small-town charm and having a lot of different things to do, as well as being near attractions. A survey conducted last year showed 56 percent of the people coming to Hill City were return visitors, and have an average age of 45.2.
One problem, the presentation noted, is that people can not distinguish Hill City from other Southern Hills communities. To combat that, Lawrence & Schiller unveiled its “EL•E•VATE” campaign to differentiate Hill City from surrounding communities. Among the selling points noted were:
• Artistic and adventurous
• Wineries and breweries
• History and culture
• Unique events, both marquee and secondary
• Mount Rushmore is only 12 miles away.
The presentation noted the 1880 Train, Mickelson Trail, Black Hills Film Festival, Sculpture in the Hills, Brulé’s local performances and other attractions and events as offering “an elevated experience from other small communities in the Southern Black Hills.”
Seven awards were given out during the evening as well, the first of which went to Rollie and Dawnette Owens, owners of Annie Lode Coffee Cabin. The two were presented the Community Pride Award, given to a business, individual or group that works toward presenting Hill City as an attractive place to work, live and play, and who takes great pride in the appearance of their property and in the presentation of Hill City to their customers.
The Hill City Cafe was named Retail Business of the Year. This award is given to a business which excels at meeting local needs, has a positive working environment and has a record of outstanding service to the community.
Service Business of the Year was presented to Nelson Oil & Gas. The award is given to a business which fills a need in the community, has a positive working environment and whose employees and management team are active in the community.
The Hill City School District was honored as Employer of the Year, which is given to a business that has made a significant impact on the community, is involved in the community, creates a positive environment for its employees and provides an environment which promotes safety, good health, good living and is family oriented.
Brian Rupert was named the chamber’s Volunteer of the Year, presented to an individual who has generously donated his or her time and effort toward the success of various activities sponsored by the chamber. Peters noted Rupert’s extensive work in helping the chamber, particularly in the computer and IT realm, while also noting he recently joined the Hill City Volunteer Fire Department.
The Victor Jespen Award is the highest award given to a person whose spirit and attitude exemplify the best in business, community and family, and who has shown an overall concern for and made a contribution to the Hill City community and to the Hill City Chamber of Commerce. This award went to Blanche Farrar.
The final award of the evening was the Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is not given out each year, but rewards individuals for their long-term commitment to Hill city and whose creative and innovative business ethics set a standard for the community. Dee Schreier owned DJ’s Boutique in Hill City for 18 years, and also worked for the Hill City School District for 18 years.
The event wrapped up with two announcements from new chamber vice-president John Majrchzak, who told the crowd Cabela’s will shoot its fall catalog at High County Guest Ranch and the Hill City area over the next two weeks, while also announcing Hill City is one of three towns in the Black Hills in the running to be the home of a worldwide unveiling of a new Subaru vehicle in the near future.
Peters told the crowd the work accomplished by the chamber and Hill City last year was “unbelievable,” and said all signs point to another strong summer in 2017.
“Get ready for a busy summer,” he said.