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Erik Burgess, Published February 25 2013

Moorhead discusses basic services vs. marketing campaign

MOORHEAD – The city needs to provide basic services to current residents before it can try to attract new ones. That’s the message some officials from the City Council and Economic Development Authority championed on Monday.

The City Council tabled a vote to approve $66,000 for a marketing campaign that began last year called “Make Moorhead Home,” which focused on marketing the city as “your hometown within the metro.”

Council members Steve Gehrtz and Brenda Elmer said the city should be focusing on providing basic city services like snow removal, instead of funding a marketing campaign that might not be working effectively.

“I want to be assured that we have those (basic services) under control before we put a bunch of money into a marketing campaign,” Gerhtz said at the EDA meeting.

Gehrtz and Elmer are council representatives on the EDA.

Of the $66,000, $41,000 would go toward advertisements and $25,000 would go toward public relations work. The EDA already budgeted $81,000 into their 2013 budget to continue the program.

City Council members said Monday that the funds could instead go toward funding a full-time public relations and marketing employee for the city, as suggested by Councilman Mark Altenburg.

Such a person could better respond to what Gehrtz called a “considerable amount of negative press” in recent weeks concerning snow removal.

Around 130 vehicles were towed during the first snow removal declaration in late January in the city’s “blue” zone near the Concordia College and Minnesota State University Moorhead campuses. Seventy-two more were towed late last week in the city’s second snow removal declaration.

“It just seems like we’ve got a huge mountain to overcome here on PR,” Gehrtz said.

The Homebuilders Association of Fargo-Moorhead also made a presentation to the City Council and EDA on Monday, with representatives stating that Moorhead was the only city in the metro that saw a downtick in new home growth last year.

“I’m wondering how effective it is,” Gehrtz said of the marketing campaign, suggesting that it might need to be retooled.

The city also needs to do a better job of responding to negative media reports, said Jeff Frider, an EDA member.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got media in town, especially print media, that seems to take satisfaction in pointing out negatives aspects to Moorhead,” Frider said. “It’s almost a vendetta.”

Altenburg said a full-time media relations person could be the city’s media contact and would know how to handle press information.

Elmer said the best way to market the community is by providing “timely and reliable public services,” such as snow removal.

“We want to reinforce to our current residents that they did make a good choice,” she said. “And they feel good about where they live because, in my opinion, they are probably the most credible marketers that we have.”

Community Services Director Scott Hutchins said city staff will continue to provide information about the community to stakeholders in the residential development industry regardless of the campaign, but the professional services funded by the campaign would help their cause.

Neighborhood Services Manager Lisa Vatnsdal said an effective PR campaign can help combat the negative perception of the city.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to stop the marketing investment that we’re making right now,” she said.

The EDA is expected to discuss the council’s concerns about the marketing budget at its next meeting in March.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518