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The Themed Space

By SCOTT A. LUKAS

LUCIA A. WORTHINGTON Clark College

Economic development ideas are heating up in Clark County and the surrounding areas.

Tourism, agri-tourism, cider fests, microbrewery events, gourmet meal events and more. Entrepreneurs, developers, economists, business associations and a long list of policy makers or wannabe policy makers are speculating, planning or getting into action to create what they envision will stimulate our economy and/or also make for good fun. But, copycats beware. We are not Seattle, Denver, Williamsburg, etc. We are a river and mountain county with four seasons, including long periods of rain. We can borrow and adopt from others, but in the true entrepreneurial spirit we must carve out our own unique marketing plan that combines and builds on the resources and culture in our region.

“The Themed Space” is edited by an anthropologist who understands people and culture. Scott Lukas gives a practical overview of why people are drawn to themed spaces such as Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Flagstaff, Disneyworld or Dollywood. Lukas goes well beyond the U.S. Other spaces include imagineering in China, love hotels in Japan, mythical-themed African cities and hundreds of regions around the world that draw people to them for the unique experiences they offer because their themes are both inviting and exciting.

Themed spaces, according to Lukas, create a holistic and integrated spatial organization for consumers. On a micro level, small themed spaces such as restaurants with a national and ethnic theme are enjoyable to customers as they eat the special fare offered on the menu. On a macro level, themed spaces add a sense of magic to individuals and transports them to another reality that gives them meaning or simply new experiences to enjoy. Leavenworth – the Bavarian theme village in Washington state – is such a theme that brings magic to those who visit.

I recommend “The Themed Space” by Scott Lukas to planners and decision makers in our county to include business associations, economic development professionals, city, port, county and state administrators, and elected officials. And, most importantly, interested citizens. We need a strategic vision that represents us. Lukas gives a detailed example of the theme that was created by developers and other stakeholders to make Flagstaff Arizona into an interesting railroad town that visitors enjoy visiting. The railroad theme was picked because of the significance the railroad played in Flagstaff history.

The Lukas book has a powerful message for change for those who have a vision of how to umbrella their region into a theme that represents their history as well as what they have become and want to be.

Here in Clark County, rather than hiring expensive consultants to project a strategic vision for Clark County, we can use this book as a catalyst to bring Clark County stakeholders together – as has been done in many other regions in the United States and around the world.

We have an amazing history of trade and food production, which is the history of our indigenous people who traded with those who explored or sailed their ships near our shores. The agricultural entrepreneurship of John McLoughlin has yet to be celebrated and can be done if we theme our region as a wholesome food production area.

I recommend “The Themed Space” as a springboard for change and economic development that fits us and is sustainable. The book is full of good examples that worked. It requires dedicated reading – it has no pictures. Key terms in the back of the book help give a perspective on the many opportunities theming offers.

Lucia Worthington has taught strategic Planning and Change Management for the University of Maryland and now teaches for Clark College.

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