Monticello EDA commissioners turn down I-94 business marketing request

Monticello Economic Development Authority commissioners recently turned down a $500 funding request from a group of Monticello businesses that are working to promote positive business traffic during the Interstate 94 reconstruction project.

Community Development Director Angela Schumann explained the request in a background memo presented May 14.

“The Monticello business community has been developing strategies for maintaining positive business traffic during I-94 construction,” she stated. A core group of businesses has been working through signage, brochure and other information marketing techniques.

One of the sub-groups is working on a coordinated marketing campaign along the lines of “Monticello – Worth the Stop.” Organizers wanted the EDA to contribute $500 to support their marketing efforts.

“The EDA general fund includes a line item of $17,000 for general marketing expenses,” Schumann said. The remaining balance in the fund is $7,000. “Funds are available should the EDA wish to proceed in partnering on this marketing effort,” she said, adding Communications Coordinator Rachel Leonard has been participating in the effort on behalf of the city.

In their partnership letter to the EDA, Monticello-Worth the Stop organizers said they had formulated a campaign after several meetings and hours of volunteer efforts.

“We would like to invite additional businesses to participate, in Monticello’s ‘Worth the Stop’ campaign from June to September,” the group’s letter stated, adding the marketing effort would include billboard, pamphlets, social media and event-based promotion.

The estimated collective cost to accomplish the “Worth the Stop” campaign was stated at $20,000, Organizers want to share the promotional and marketing cost among 40 participating businesses. With 40 contributors, the amount per business would be $500 for 4 months or $125 per month. Worth the Stop organizers said they wanted to initiate their campaign as soon as possible, mentioning they had targeted a May 17 deadline.

“We are talking economic impact, and economic development,” Schumann said. “That’s why we are bringing this item forward for the EDA to consider. “You do have adequate funds at present in your marketing line item of your general fund,” she said. “I’m throwing it over to the EDA for consideration this evening.”

EDA Treasurer Tracy Hinz asked if Schumann knew how many businesses the group had committed. “I don’t have an exact number, but I do know in talking to Rachel, our communications coordinator, they are looking at a minimum of 40 participating businesses to really get the effect that they want,” Schumann said. “If they don’t reach that number, they will probably scale it back.”

Bill Tapper, EDA vice president, said he had the opportunity to talk with one business that would be “significantly impacted” by the I-94 reconstruction project.

Tapper said it was the consensus of that business that contributing to the Monticello-Worth the Stop effort was a waste of money.

Tapper said he didn’t see that much could be done to alter the project’s impact. “There’s a changing dynamic with the Interstate entrance and exit [closures] almost daily. If people find their way off the freeway, and they are local, they will find what they want and how to get around. I find it hard to believe that [contributing] would make much difference. My position is we would be wasting our money.”

Commissioner Rod Dragsten agreed with Tapper. “You should be doing this when there isn’t any construction,” Dragsten said. “That’s when you should be advertising to get people to come here.”

Schumann said the Monticello-Worth the Stop group would remain active long after the I-94 reconstruction project came to a close. “They are trying to build a coalition for a larger Monticello marketing effort,” she said. “Whether that will occur remains to be seen, but I think that’s the goal as this group continues to coalesce around the idea that Monticello is something more that just a stop along the Interstate. It’s a destination.”

Commissioner Matt Frie said he wasn’t sure which way he was going to vote, but he did want to comment on the funding request. “It seems to be in line with what’s in our budget, and a lot of times, the EDA has spent a lot of money on big projects lately, and every once in a while, it feels like the ‘rubber band effect’ is to try and offset that by not pay for marketing expenses. That’s just been my observation.”

Frie said marketing could be more important in ways than EDA members realized.
“Just because this town is well-situated on many highways and it’s on a major river, that doesn’t always mean we are marketing ourselves properly or reaching our potential,” Frie said. “Something like this might be worth $500.”

Hinz said she appreciated the grassroots effort by businesses, but added she wished the effort had been better organized, a little more thoughtful, and timely.

EDA President Bill Demeules asked Schumann about the May 17 deadline and if she knew how much the Monticello-Worth the Stop group had in marketing support committed to date. Schumann said she did not. “That’s my concern,” Demeules said. “Our $500 isn’t going to make a difference.”

Schuman said the EDA had two metrics to consider: What is the measurement to use if the EDA contributed $500 as well as the impact of showing the business community EDA commissioners stood behind the effort being put forth by the Monticello-Worth The Stop group.

Hinz made a motion to approve the $500 request. Her motion was seconded by Frie.

The motion failed to carry when Demeules, Tapper, Dragsten and Tom Perrault, one of two city council members who are EDA voting members, voted not to approve the $500 request from the Monticello-Worth the Stop group.

Contact Tim Hennagir at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com

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