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A regional effort is picking up momentum, with $87,000 in pledges of a total $115,000 needed from local governments and tourism-related groups to pay for the Regional Marketing Initiative in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Allegany counties.

Those contributions, together with $27,000 set aside earlier this year by the Cattaraugus County Tourism Promotion Agency, will be used to pay a consultant to develop a plan calculated to lure more visitors to the region.

The Rudder Group of Toronto is expected to sign a contract in the next couple of weeks and begin working on the project sometime around July 4, members of the Cattaraugus County Tourism Promotion Agency Board learned at a meeting Thursday.

The agency helps administer Cattaraugus County's share of the I Love New York tourism campaign funding and participates in the three-county Chautauqua-Allegany Region delineated by the state.

The counties began gathering support and funding for the initiative almost a year ago under the leadership of Andrew Nixon, Chautauqua County's tourism director, and Brian McFadden, Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce director.

The first part of the initiative's project will bring out the facts needed to give the region its new identity.

"It will be loaded with a lot of research and it will have a heavy emphasis on marketing and research analysis," said Tom Livak, director of the Cattaraugus County Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism.

Strategic planning efforts will come later, with a final decision on the region's new name or image to be based on facts surrounding the local tourism resources, not on politics, said Livak.

He said the research could be completed in a year and urged participants to bring ideas to the process and help educate the consultants about the region.

He pointed to a successful effort under way that resulted in the Corning-funded Finger Lakes Wine Country promotion.

In answer to a question from board member Judy Emke, Livak said the consulting contract for the initiative was not placed out for bids because of the highly specialized nature of the work. Rudder is one of a small group of service providers in the field, which brings a $1 million tourism database to the task, he added.

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