City officials hope that an investment of $3,600 pays some dividends in the form of new businesses.
The city's Finance, Wage and Salary Committee this week recommended approval of a one-year, $3,600 contract with the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce to assist with the marketing of the city to prospective businesses.
The chamber's services would take the form of website as well as printed materials that could be used whenever economic development inquiries come through the chamber's office.
"Most people go straight to them anyway," alderman and Finance Committee chair Mark Pelletier said. "We just want, if a person goes there, to be steered in the right direction."
"I think the Chamber of Commerce is a very natural place for people to start no matter what their question may be," said Lara Reed, executive director of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce.
Reed said the chamber, on average, receives a couple of inquiries a month from people looking at starting a new business, expanding or relocating an existing business. While the chamber can redirect a person to the appropriate place, whether that be the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation or a city office, Reed said it would help if the chamber could better answer business questions as well.
"What I think is most beneficial is we can focus on having information in one place," Reed said. "If we can help people the first time they ask a question, they have a better initial impression of Rhinelander and won't feel like they got the run-around."
The chamber will help the city maintain a continuously updated listing of available vacant property in Rhinelander as well as a community profile that provides information about the city as a whole.
"We have an airport, 24-hour cab service, medical facilities that maybe a lot of communities this size wouldn't have," Pelletier said. "Things that (a prospective business owner) maybe didn't realize are available (in Rhinelander)."
Reed said the chamber will work with the city to develop a checklist to ensure chamber staff is able to answer the types of questions people may have. Reed said brochures will also be created that can be used when she or other officials travel outside the area for conferences and other events.
It's an initiative that was first discussed by the city's Economic Development Committee nearly two years ago. In February of 2011, former chamber director Kim Swisher brought the proposal before city officials. But not long after, Swisher took a position with the School District of Rhinelander. Then, former city administrator Bill Bell announced he would be taking a new job in his home state of Colorado.
It was also unclear what the funding source for the new marketing partnership would be and Pelletier said the idea simply "fizzled out." Now, it again has the attention of city officials.
Pelletier said it appears that TIF (Tax Increment Financing) revenue can be used as the funding source since it's an economic development initiative. The city would pay the chamber $350 a month for the first six months to develop the various marketing materials. It would then pay the chamber $250 a month to continue to keep that information current and updated.
"We'd still rather have businesses come directly to us but if they do go to the chamber first, the chamber can give them this information," Pelletier said. "Then, if they're truly interested (in locating to Rhinelander), it belongs in a city office. (The chamber) will be that initial step."
"If we're all on the same page and working together with the same mission in mind, it helps the community," Reed said.
Kyle Rogers may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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