Imlay City receives tourism development suggestions from surprise visitors

Michigan State University Extension First Impressions Tourism Assessment program assists small town communities with identifying strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of first-time visitors.

During a six-week period from mid-May through June, Imlay City received four surprise visitors that spent 8-24 hours in the Lapeer County community. These visitors, called assessors, were part of a yearlong program Imlay City applied for via Michigan State University Extension. The program, First Impressions: Assessing your community for tourism (FIT), provides communities an opportunity to learn about their assets and opportunities from first-time visitors. Communities can then make changes to strengthen their image, improve community well-being, and quality of life for residents and visitors based on suggestions from the program. Assessors are provided a stipened to cover travel costs, come with the FIT Visitors Manual, and bring their own cameras (or phones) for photographing assets in the community they find of interest. Some assessors have been known to bring their own kayak, bike, or other sporting equipment to experience outdoor activities in host communities.


Photo by Andy Northrop

Imlay City has assets and challenges similar to every community. Assessors commented that “Imlay City has some wonderful assets including a variety of quality eating establishments… recreation opportunities such as the Poly Ann Trail (PAT) and several local parks.” Assessors also noted the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods are inviting, well-kept, and a pleasure to stroll through. Pre-assessment research conducted online by assessors shared that Imlay City’s most helpful website was, as it helped assessors identify things to do and a way to plan their visits. However, assessors were challenged to find up-to-date calendars of events online that matched with other websites. Assessors also noted some social media of Imlay City may not represent the community accurately.


Photo by Andy Northrop

Some of the challenges Imlay City assessors identified as obstacles, such as increasing activities for visitors and strengthening local businesses and eateries and reasons to be downtown can be done gradually overtime. Assessors noted that Imlay City was clean, safe, secure, and a great value for visitors. Assessors in Imlay City also reviewed tourism assets, residential areas, local involvement, and senses and safety.

FIT provides communities like Imlay City with a final report of results and suggestions, an open community forum opportunity to share results along with a copy of the presentation, as well as the raw data collected from assessors. Suggestions that come from FIT assessments are typically categorized into four areas: art, business, community, and recreation. You can view a full report of the FIT assessment conducted in Imlay City here.

Michigan State University Extension tourism educators conduct FIT assessments annually. Communities are asked to thoroughly review the FIT application, consider the program requirements and timeline and determine if FIT is the best fit for the community, and, equally important, form a Community Leadership Team (CLT) before applying.

If your community is interested in becoming a future FIT community please contact tourism educator, Andy Northrop ( You can also learn more by reviewing Michigan State University Extension articles, such as “How to become a FIT community”.

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