Skip to main content

Community First Impressions

Morgantown and river during autumn. Text on building reads: Loving Furniture Co. and Mundell Financial Group

Have you ever wondered what people think about your community?

How individuals present themselves has a powerful effect on future opinions. As the old saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” For first time visitors, the way a community presents itself is of equal importance. The look and feel of the community experienced by a visitor will most likely influence how long they stay, if they will return, and whether or not they will speak about the community positively or negatively. The West Virginia University (WVU) Extension Service views the Community First Impressions Program as an important tool in the community development process. To date, more than 70 communities have participated.

How does the program work?

The current process followed by WVU Extension Service begins with identifying community champions that make up the community leadership team. Anonymous visitors are then identified to conduct the assessment. These individuals are not affiliated or directly familiar with the location enabling them to provide their unbiased impression of the community. Visitors use a manual of established procedures and guidelines to record their first impressions of seven community factors. Many sites are evaluated; no individual establishment or entity is considered as a First Impression of the total community. Upon completion, manuals are returned to the faculty specialist for data entry and analysis. A final report is provided to the community leadership team including all observations and comments. Photographs accompany the report to illustrate points raised by visitors. Results are presented to the community at large and recommendations for improvement and asset development are included.

What impacts have we seen?

Long-term evaluation of 18 communities which participated in the First Impressions program between 1999 and 2005 revealed positive outcomes from program participation. These included short and medium term outcomes based on program recommendations such as improving the built/physical environment, increasing tourism and recreation opportunities, and establishing new partnerships to make projects possible. More importantly, the program’s public value was demonstrated. Many communities recognized improvements extending beyond program recommendations to the broader community development process: communities began to self-evaluate, build new networks, and seek out additional money and programming resources for sustained community development.

The Community First Impressions report covers a breadth of topics including:

  • Signage and Way-finding
  • Walkability
  • Streetscapes
  • Local Amenities, Business Diversity, and Recreational Assets
  • Ease of Finding Community Information and the Community's Online Presence
  • The Key Attributes that Create a Sense of Place and Make a Lasting Impression on Visitors

The Community First Impressions program is simple and subjective but has proven successful in a diversity of places and community development situations. It is a great introduction to our programs, and provides us an introduction to your community.

If you are interested in receiving the Community First Impressions assessment in your community, please submit our form to receive a copy of a finished report and start a conversation.

Community First Impressions Application

For more information about the Community First Impressions program, contact Daniel Eades.