BENSON — Two members of the Rural Development program for Local First Arizona were in Benson last Wednesday to gather input for a community profile.

Lexie Krechel, Local First rural development manager and Zoe De Leo, rural development coordinator, met with 10 members of the community to learn about Benson’s history, its arts and culture, dining, businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“We’re here to talk about marketing Benson by providing all the things you want people to know while searching for information about your community,” Krechel said. “We want them to experience the feel that you get when you come here.”

Once completed, Benson’s profile will be joining 18 other rural communities from across the state on the Local First website. Bisbee, Willcox and Tubac are featured on the website, which can be accessed by going to Explore AZ — Local First Arizona (localfirstaz.com).

The community discussions touched on features that draw people to Benson, along with future projects that would contribute to the community’s growth.

Funding for the project came through a joint contribution from the Arizona Office of Tourism and the city of Benson Tourism Department.

“We belong to the Arizona Office of Tourism’s rural cooperative,” said Bob Nilson, Benson Visitor Center supervisor. “We paid $2,500 for the opportunity to have a digital presence on the Local First website, and the Office of Tourism matched that amount.”

In 2020 when COVID caused a significant dip in tourism, the Benson Visitor Center redirected its advertising money from publications to Local First because of its widespread social media marketing presence.

Wednesday’s meeting and discussion represented the first step in compiling Benson’s community profile.

“I really liked the idea of having a focus group based on local people in our community,” said Kathy Lara, Benson Visitor Center employee. “I thought everyone was really engaged and provided great input. They all seemed excited about sharing stories and experiences about Benson. I’m looking forward to seeing our community profile when it’s completed next month.”

Local business owner Kirsten Smith, who grew up in Benson, spoke highly of the Benson school district and the way the city and schools work together on different community events.

“We invited Benson School District Superintendent Micah Mortenson and Primary School Principal Jomel Janssen to the discussion,” Lara said. “Both of them praised the support the community gives the school district. It’s really important to have a community that rallies around its young people and education, and the Benson school system has that kind of support.”

Former business owner Jack McCune, a long-time resident and retired business owner, believes one of Benson’s most marketable features is its favorable weather.

“The biggest thing we have going on for us is the climate,” McClure said. “We enjoy beautiful evenings during the summer months and Benson doesn’t get the wind that most other communities in Cochise County deal with. I think our climate is one of this area’s biggest draws.”

Business owner Mahlon MacKenzie talked about the Benson Municipal Airport and features that make it a desirable asset to the community.

“We have a 4,000-foot paved runway at our airport just northwest of town,” he said. “As time goes on, I suspect that could be a real factor in Benson’s growth.”

On the subject of the airport, Mayor Joe Konrad talked about a newly installed Self Serve Fuel facility.

“We figure that’s going to help us draw more air traffic into town and contribute to future expansion,” he said.

Retired school teacher Norma Hughes said she would like to see more opportunities for young people, with hopes of keeping them in Benson. While she likes the city’s parks, Hughes believes they need improvements and upgrades.

Konrad responded to Hughes by noting that the city is planning to invest $1.4 million in park improvements through a project that is about to get underway.

At the session’s conclusion, Krechel thanked the community for its participation and contributions.

“This was a great meeting,” she said. “There was so much history that came out of this.”

While people can always search Google or LinkedIn to learn about communities, Krechel said that gathering community input allows Local First to create profiles that are unique to each community.

“Our link for Local First comes up third in the Google search for things to do in rural Arizona, so people will see the different community profiles we’ve created on our site,” she said. “Benson’s profile — which is expected to be completed in about a month — is our 19th rural community profile,” she said. “Once it’s completed, you’ll be able to go to our website and learn about Benson and all the things that make your community a tourist destination.”