MONTICELLO — Area newcomers Jason and Alyssa Nelson plan to open a lake apparel and tourism business that will offer Lyft tours in Monticello, a tourism Instagram page showcasing tourist hot spots, clothing and accessories, and an online guide for local businesses to promote their services.
The apparel line will provide t-shirts, sweatshirts, swimsuits, beanies, bags, koozies and more with the wave logo printed. Sales of these items are online, but the Nelsons hope to expand into an in-person location. An Instagram page is dedicated to showcasing the apparel.
The tourism Instagram page and website guide will feature videos and photos of local businesses taken by the Nelsons without charge. When a new business opens, they will get in touch to request permission to take photos and advertise their services to the community.
“Within our first few months living here, we have just been going around meeting everybody,” Jason said. “Like we have literally been walking into places and getting to know people and understanding how the town works, the business climate, and what the needs are.”
According to the Indiana Office of Tourism Development and Tourism Tomorrow (IOTD), in 2013 tourism directly impacted White County’s economy by $21.2 million and local businesses by $17.5 million.
The Nelsons plan to help “build the community up” more and donate a portion of their profits to community charities, initiatives and lake conservation.
“I think he [Jason] and his wife [Alyssa] have a good business that promotes collaboration/partnership throughout the community that will encourage more people to not only start their own business, but look toward promoting themselves through the tourism industry,” said Deb Conover, White County Economic Development administrative assistant.
Jason is director of branding, advertises the company and manages partnerships. Alyssa is director of content and in in charge of their business’ social media and website.
Jason grew up in northwest Indiana and Alyssa in Canada. She was a travel journalist and digital content editor for a magazine. Jason was vice president of marketing for almost eight years at The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s plantation near Nashville.
The couple met while Alyssa was on a press tour in Nashville and Jason worked in tourism public relations. They married internationally and started a tourism business called “Top Down Tours” in Nashville over long distance. Jason said they would “fly to each other every three or four weeks until Alyssa received her green card.”
According to the Nelsons, the business ranked No. 5 and is currently ranked No. 9 on Tripadvisor for nightlife in Nashville. It featured themed tours to local bars and restaurants, murals, and popular attractions that included The Bluebird Cafe and RCA Studio B.
The couple lived together in Nashville and continued operating the business until COVID-19 struck the Nashville tourism district. They closed the business and moved to Canada before moving again into a Monticello lake house owned for many years within Jason’s family.
“Top Down Tours” wasn’t the only business hit hard by the pandemic, according to the Federal Reserve Board, as 2020 produced around 200,000 more business closures than the average 600,000. Tourism and personal services businesses, such as barbershops and hair salons, received the biggest hits with more than 100,000 closures above the normal rate.
But as the Nelsons were re-evaluating their new adventure, they didn’t want to give up on the tourism business. Then, Jason remembered summers on the lake and at Indiana Beach when his family would visit during the summer, so the couple felt a draw to rural White County instead of Nashville.
This shift to rural areas seems to be a growing trend among Americans following COVID-19. According to the World Economic Forum, almost half of all adults preferred living in a small town or rural area in 2020. In 2018, 39% of respondents said the same, showing a 9% increase between then and now.
From the same study, people aged 18-34 showed a 10% increase in migration to rural areas — a promising number since people aged 18-44 made up only 30% of White County’s population in 2019, as provided by the White County Economic Development Office.
“We have met a lot of people around our age who’ve moved here from Indianapolis or Chicago. Because of the pandemic, we have seen this shift of people moving to smaller towns to start new businesses and adventures,” Jason said.
The Nelsons hope families visiting the area continuously return or even stay for generations.
This outreach will continue to impact White County’s economy. According to the IOTD, “of every tourism dollar spent in White County in 2013, 73 cents stayed local and directly impacted the gross county product of White County.”
“It’s a long-term strategy. We’re not coming into town and trying to make a quick buck or anything like that,” Jason said. “We want to develop long-term, sustainable relationships and help promote the area — and not just in the summer months. We have ideas to do Christmas events or do secret concerts throughout the year.”
They also plan to give back to adolescents already in the community by reaching out to students interested in mass communications or business. They look to provide internships for students in college or high school.
Monticello1’s tour business started May 20, and the website and Instagram page was made available on Memorial Day. Bookings for the Lyft tours are available on the Lyft app.
For business outreach or more information about Monticello1’s services, email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.