EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
An island bridge sunset over the City of Marinette, as viewed from Stephenson Island, represents just one small attraction that can help market the city to the rest of the state and beyond. After the loss of a contract with Marinette County, members on the Marketing Marinette Ad Hoc Committee undertake the difficult task of finding ways to spend a scarcity of budget funds for promoting the attractions of culture and tourism that exist in Marinette.  
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

An island bridge sunset over the City of Marinette, as viewed from Stephenson Island, represents just one small attraction that can help market the city to the rest of the state and beyond. After the loss of a contract with Marinette County, members on the Marketing Marinette Ad Hoc Committee undertake the difficult task of finding ways to spend a scarcity of budget funds for promoting the attractions of culture and tourism that exist in Marinette.  

MARINETTE — After a marketing and tourism contract that partnered the City of Marinette and Marinette County expired at the end of 2019 without renewal, slashing the city’s marketing budget, city marketing officials mustered their momentum, keeping their sights on the future marketing opportunities during the recent Marketing Marinette Ad Hoc committee meeting.

Marinette County Administrator Jon Lefebvre informed the city in October that he did not intend to renew a contract that allocated approximately $125,000 in marketing and tourism funds to the city. When the contract expired at the end of the year, the City of Marinette’s marketing and tourism budget plummeted to just $25,000, which in the world of advertising buys very little.

“That really put a damper on what we can and cannot do with the marketing funds and the (budget) plan that we put together,” said Committee Chairman Jon Kukuk. “We kind of hit a brick wall, to some degree, because we don’t have the funds originally anticipated.”

With their first step forward in confronting a limited budget, Ad Hoc committee members turned to the advice of Wisconsin Department of Tourism Jeff Anderson. Anderson serves as the Ad Hoc committee’s regional tourism representative through Travel Wisconsin. He presented several tourism marketing options to committee members that might fit into the budget or provide supplemental funding sources with which to market and brand the Marinette area, moving forward into 2020.

In a short, Anderson’s presentation informed the committee of several resources and programs offered by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Anderson said he understood recent limits and challenges placed on the city’s promotional efforts in the last few years, particularly after the city-county contract expired.

“I am cognizant of the discussion happening and the changes and the evolution taking place in the marketing and promotion of tourism in the county and the city,” Anderson said.

He informed committee members that his objective aimed to provide marketing resources, partnerships and programs in whatever form those might take. He advised on available grant programs, communication services, web marketing, publications development research, co-op advertising and others.

“Having his input to guide us as to what opportunities there are through Travel Wisconsin is great,” said Melissa Ebsch, Marinette director of tourism & marketing. “He informed the committee on future city assets and what we should be looking at in terms of advertising efforts and what we would want to do as far as the minimal amount of dollars we currently have for our budget.”

In lieu of the significant fiscal support the city received under the agreement with the county, Kukuk highlighted several takeaways following the committee’s discussion with Anderson. Kukuk sees potential changes to the Wisconsin Welcome Center as one alternative. He believes it is important to closely examine the center’s budget. While the center promotes the city, county and State of Wisconsin, Kukuk pointed out that the city serves as its primary funding source. Annually, the centers operating expenses run about $43,000. The state provides a $3,000 grant for those expenses but the city covers the remaining dollars.

Kukuk believes it is important to identify areas where the centers budget can be trimmed or enhanced with additional income sources such as partnering with area businesses that might show interest in selling items at the center. He added that opportunities to partner with the county on publication such as the Regional Guide are also under discussion.

“I don’t think we are totally out of the woods at this point but there are some options,” Kukuk said after the meeting. “I think there are some things that will materialize, but it is going to take time.”

Faced with the difficult task of promoting the vital asset that tourism plays in the Marinette area economy, with only a scarcity of funding, most committee members adjourned from the Ad Hoc meeting reinvigorated and unrelenting in their efforts.

“We can’t afford to lose all the momentum,” said Mayor Steve Genisot following the meeting. “We are going to partner on what we can … and try to keep our costs low based on the budget that we have, but we’re not going to back completely off.”

Genisot emphasized the trickle-down benefits that tourism and locally-marketed events bring to area businesses, ringing in significant dollar signs as well as fostering event-related promotion of area culture and markets. He underscored events like the upcoming Masters Walleye Circuit tournament scheduled to drop anchor in Marinette May 15 and 16.

“We have to promote (events like that),” Genisot said. “Think of the non-tangible numbers that (such tournaments) bring to area businesses; we have already shown (fishing events) can be anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 — and even a projected $700,000 for a big tournament. You can’t measure it exactly but the effect is there.”

He further underscored the economic benefits that such marketing efforts impart to area hotels, restaurants, retail, gas stations and other businesses, pointing out those effects can result in a huge revenue boost for the whole community.

In the meantime, city marketing and tourism officials plan to continue seeking options, which include discussion with the county for support on things like the visitor’s center.

“The committee needs to decide which direction we want to go,” Genisot said. “We need to continue our efforts to see if the county will continue to support us in some capacity ... the more we partner (with businesses or the county) the better we can brand our community.”