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Friends of the Finger Lakes

Eastman Kodak Co. inadvertently helped two friends of the Finger Lakes found a business promoting their favorite region.
Emerson Klees and Robert Sundell both left Kodak in 1991 when the imaging giant offered an attractive deal. They struck up a conversation at a retirement luncheon and realized they shared an interest in the Finger Lakes.
Sundell had been an international marketing and operations man for Kodak. While living in Europe, he noticed travelers were beginning to use audiocassette tapes to aid them on their tours.
He thought tour cassettes for the Finger Lakes might be a promising enterprise, but knew little about the area.
Klees mentioned to Sundell that he was an amateur Finger Lakes historian and had always wanted to write books about it. Sundell, who long wanted to operate his own business, realized Klees was the partner he needed.
“I wasn’t in a position to do research. As a marketing and sales (expert), research was foreign to my nature,” Sundell jokes.
Friends of the Finger Lakes produced its first tape, on Keuka Lake, in early 1992. The pair followed with tapes on Cayuga, Seneca and Canandaigua lakes and the region to the west. No other local company produces cassettes like these, Sundell says, though similar businesses exist around cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, N.M.
Cassettes discuss points of interest, regional history and famous locals. Each tape is roughly an hour long, with enough sightseeing suggestions to consume an entire weekend.
Klees also has published two books through Friends of the Finger Lakes. Tapes and books sell in bookstores like Borders Books and Music, Worldwide News and the Village Green, and in gift shops and hotels.
The firm would like to pursue other means of marketing, Sundell says, such as through the Automobile Association of America and as a promotional tool. One area hotel included cassettes with bottles of wine and baskets of fruit for a promotional package.
Klees and Sundell may explore the video medium for future projects, though they are holding back because videos are much more expensive to produce, Sundell says. The company plans to produce more cassettes–Skaneateles and Chautauqua lakes, the Seaway Trail, the Erie Canal and more distant regions are possibilities–but not this year. Sundell will be busy with the Finger Lakes Association, a non-profit group, to promote the region at an international trade show.
Friends of the Finger Lakes is riding the wave of the tourism industry, which Sundell says is booming. Experts predict by 1996 it will bump agriculture out of the spot as New York’s top industry.
“We need to make visitors realize there’s something in between New York City and Niagara Falls,” he says.
The Finger Lakes region has long been attractive to residents in the Northeast because of its proximity and inexpensive offerings, Sundell says. But the region’s popularity may be growing due to a leisure trend.
“People are not going on two-, three-, four-week vacations, people are taking longer weekends,” he says. “The Finger Lakes (area) lends itself well to that.”

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