By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, MEEKER COUNTIES, MN Six of the cities along the Highway 12 corridor Dassel, Cokato, Howard Lake, Waverly, Montrose, and Delano have been exploring creative options for attracting people to the area, and their plans are beginning to take shape.
A few city administrators and other community representatives met at the Cokato Library June 23 to brainstorm marketing strategies.
“We have to identify what we have for assets,” Cokato City Council Member Wayne Murphy said.
The plan is to develop a common theme among the cities, and work together to draw attention to the area.
“We need to make people aware that we exist,” Waverly City Council Member Connie Holmes said in May.
The idea for a shared marketing vision started in February during a Wright County Economic Development Partnership meeting.
“We started thinking, what can we do to market ourselves better?” Delano City Administrator Phil Kern said.
Each of the six cities has similar goals, Kern said, such as building a healthy business community and stimulating growth.
“Individually, we’ve all been doing that for a long time,” Kern said.
By working together, however, the cities can “leverage each other’s resources,” Holmes said.
Keeping the cost of marketing to a minimum is one major consideration of the effort.
“Each city is in a very different financial situation,” Holmes said.
The group is hoping to obtain grant money and other funding sources to pay for any expenses.
Montrose City Administrator Barb Swanson said that Joanne Foust of the Municipal Development Group has agreed to help the cities apply for a grant through the AgStar Fund for Rural America.
If they receive the grant, Foust would continue to work with the cities to develop a marketing strategy. An outside professional might also be utilized.
According to Murphy, the six cities need to come up with a theme that “sizzles.”
Swanson suggested naming the area “Best of 12,” signifying the Highway 12 connection.
The cities discussed putting together one flyer for each of the 12 months of the year. The sheet would include a list of events in the area, organized by date, so that residents and tourists could easily determine what is happening each day.
A few of the items on the list might include city festivals, garage sales, art fairs, concerts, community breakfasts, wine tastings, and other close-to-home events.
Delano recently had a “movie in the park” night, Kern said.
“We had about 150 to 180 people from Delano, but I’m sure people from Montrose would have come, too, had they known about it,” he said.
By having a shared listing, people will easily be able to find out what is going on in neighboring communities.
“I think it’s a great idea a great concept,” Montrose Economic Development Authority Board Member Roger Ruhr said in May. “It’ll be good to bring everything together and showcase the assets of all the communities.”
According to Ruhr, a few of the unique assets in the area are its lakes, rivers, and peaceful rural setting.
At the meeting in Cokato, the group discussed hosting area-wide events, such as marathons or triathlons. Another possibility is having a horse-drawn wagon train running from Dassel to Delano, Kern said.
Spectators, as well as participants, would bring economic benefit to the area, he added.
“It’s going to benefit the cities, because it’s going to help the businesses and the schools, for that matter,” Swanson said.
Banners that highlight the Highway 12 corridor are another way the group hopes to promote the area. Swanson said she would love to implement something similar to Delano’s city banners in Montrose.
Each year, the Delano middle school students paint banners as part of their art curriculum. When the new class comes in, the old banners are taken down and displayed by local businesses.
The themes vary each year, Kern said. Last year was “things you love about Delano,” whereas this coming year, the emphasis will be on “fitness.”
“We have a lot of ideas, but you have to walk before you run real fast,” said Cokato City Council Member Butch Amundsen.
“This is something that’s going to take awhile,” Cokato City Administer Don Levens said in May. “It’s not going to be done in 60 days.”
The group has had four meetings thus far. The next one will be Wednesday, July 21 at 3 p.m. in Montrose.