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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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No Action On Proposal For MCABI To Take On Tourism

At a brief noon hour business meeting between tours of several manufacturing facilities, Marinette County Board's Economic Development and Tourism Committee considered asking the semi-independent Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) to take over responsibility of marketing tourism in the county.

The four members present, Bill Stankevich, Al Mans, Tom Mandli and Chair Shirley Kaufman agreed unanimously that the county should accept an invitation from Florence County to work with them on a State Department of Tourism Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) grant to promote a waterfalls tour through both counties. Supervisor Ginger Deschane, newly appointed committee member, was absent and excused.

Details of the grant and proposed project are to be put in the packet for County Board and be brought back to the next meeting.

Officials present for the meeting who are not committee members included County Administrator John LeFebvre, County Board Chair Mark Anderson, Supervisor Tricia Grebin (who recently was switched from Economic Development to Finance Committee membership), MCABI Executive Director Ann Hartnell, UWEX Secretary Nancy Servais, and Mary Paitrick of NWTC.

After much discussion on the proposal to ask MCABI take over tourist promotion for the county, the committee first voted 2 to 2 to delay action until October, when they have more information and more time for discussion. Since there was a tie, that vote failed, with Kaufman and Mans voting in favor and Mandli and Stankevich opposed. There was no other motion put forward. However, items identified for the agenda for the next committee meeting include discussion on the MCABI proposal and the JEM grant. That meeting is to be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18.

The tourist promotion idea promoted by LeFebvre and Anderson would ask MCABI "to expand their role as the county's economic development agent by coordinating tourism activities, developing and implementing a comprehensive marketing plan, and developing and implementing a branding strategy."

Currently, the position of Tourism Coordinator is a part-time county position that operates somewhat under the oversight of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, with very limited input from the Tourism Alliance. It is not part of any other county department.

LeFebvre explained at the start of the discussion that the county provides funding to MCABI to carry out economic development activities. The professional services contract with MCABI dates back to the organization's start in 1989, and currently runs through Dec. 30, 2018.

The contract includes provisions that from time to time the county can request changes ins services provided by MCABi. When MCABI started in 1989, tourism was among its responsibilities. That ended when the Tourism Alliance portion broke off, with tentative plans then calling for it to become a separate non-profit group functioning much like MCABI, but with tourism as its designated activity. After a time running tourism activities through a contract with Marinette Menominee Chamber of Commerce, the county hired a part time tourism coordinator and tourism became a direct county function.

LeFebvre suggested this would be perfect time to restructure both MCABi and the tourism department. He said Hartnell has announced plans to resign her Executive Director post with MCABI at the end of this year, and that organization is currently going through a strategic planning process.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding tourism, and the Economic Development and Tourism Committee has been requesting a full time tourism director, and the county itself is going through a strategic planning process.

He did not mention discussions on proposals for the City of Marinette to contract with the county to direct use of its room tax dollars to promote tourism in the city and use of the new REC center currently underway in the city. That facility will have space for convention, sports tournaments and other events expected to attract large numbers of visitors.

LeFebvre said the county currently provides $83,000 each year to MCABI and $128,000 for tourism activities. Between the two, there would be more than $200,000 available for operations and activities without increasing the county budget.

Hartnell commented that tourism gets a lot more money than MCABI. Part of this year's tourism allocation paid for a $15,000 "Discover Wisconsin" episode.

"Oconto County spends $150,000 more than we do each year on tourism and economic development, and we have a lot more to offer," Anderson commented.

LeFebvre agreed with comments that the present staff of MCABI and tourism could not do the work that needs to be done. He suggested there should be a 5-person staff for the combined jobs. Mans asked how much that would cost. LeFebvre said the county is already spending more than $200,000 between the two, and suggested they should go out to the local municipalities and businesses "to see if they want a share of the game."

"If the county is going to do it, I'll put it together," LeFebvre promised in regard to increased tourism efforts, "I'm willing to do it, but if I do, I'm not going to give it to MCABI. If MCABI wants to do it, they need to put it together."

There have been unconfirmed rumors of efforts to organize a new tourism group that would include officials from the county and city of Marinette, bankers, perhaps a representative of the state tourism office, and possibly business owners and representatives of local Chambers of Commerce and other local business groups.

With time running short before the next business visit was to occur, Mans moved to take no action at this time and consider it at a future meeting. Kaufman said she would not support the plan proposed by LeFebvre and Anderson. Postponement to the next meeting was defeated on two to two tie vote.

"There's no rush, but I think the process has to start," Anderson commented. "John (LeFebvre) needs to talk to MCABI and discus the concept. John and Ann (Hartnell) should talk and John should address the MCABI.

LeFebvre commented that the full time tourism director favored by Kaufman and the Economic Development Committee would do nothing without a support staff. He said if they want true nuts and bolts information, they should talk with MCABI.

"I'm on the MCABI Board of Directors," Mans declared. "Why are we doing a strategic plan if somebody else is going to do it?"

LeFebvre explained he proposed to have MCABi take over the tourism and marketing part, which should be discussed while they are doing their plan."With postponement, you have nothing to even bring to MCABI," he added. "This is the catalyst that brings the conversation you're looking for."

Anderson commented all the businesses they had visited had said they cannot get enough employees. Tourism includes promoting the county as a good place to work and live, which ties it directly to business development, he declared.

"It's confusing to me why we can't study this and go forward," Stankevich commented. "For a year and a half I've been on here, and this goes on and on!" He described the non-communication as "baffling".

Hartnell said in 1989 when MCABI started, business and tourism were both included. With very minimal staffing, tourism was getting a short stake, so in 2003 tourism broke off. She said if tourism had been part of the MCABI responsibilities when she came in as executive director she wouldn't have taken the job.

In 2013 tourism for the first time became an in-house county job.

"Tourism in this county has never been run the way it should be," Hartnell declared. "Even if you put both budgets together, we still couldn't do it right!" She said the MCABI board is hesitant, "But maybe we can make it work."

Anderson pointed out that the Oconto County Economic Development arm has two sides - tourism and business/industry, and it seems to work very well.

LeFebvre argued that by approving the concept they would just be agreeing to ask MCABI to come up with a proposal, which they would vote on before it could go into effect.

Anderson said without a request, MCABI could not even consider the proposal. He urged letting the idea go forward, and promised the committee would have plenty of time for discussion, but the motion died on the tie vote and the proposal apparently will not be put to MCABI, at least not until after the next Economic Development Committee meeting.

In other business, it was briefly mentioned that MCABI has contracted with NWTC to run the "business incubator" portion of the Maritime Center for Excellence building that MCABI is having constructed in the City of Marinette with the help of some major economic development grants from the state. NWTC has hired Paitrick to promote and manage the soon-to-be completed facility.

Half of the facility is for Naval offices connected with Marinette Marine shipbuilding operations. The incubator portion will include space for four "office" tenants and three industrial class regular tenants, plus facilities for job training, and "maker' space, complete with equipment, that will be available for temporary small-scale production by budding entrepreneurs.

The morning for the group had started at the courthouse at 8:30 a.m. when they left for tours of the Chemdesign and Kolbenschmidt facilities in Marinette. The noon luncheon meeting (Dutch treat) was held at Best Western Riverfront Inn, and the afternoon ended with a 2-hour tour of the Waupaca Foundry in Marinette.


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