EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
City of Marinette Welcome Center employee John Hollo displays the first of several items for sale inside the facilities new gift shop. Future USS Marinette sweatshirts hit the display racks this week and represent an effort by city officials to utilize the Welcome Center as not only a promotional for the great State of Wisconsin, but also an offering of the traits that manifest the aura of Marinette.  
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

City of Marinette Welcome Center employee John Hollo displays the first of several items for sale inside the facilities new gift shop. Future USS Marinette sweatshirts hit the display racks this week and represent an effort by city officials to utilize the Welcome Center as not only a promotional for the great State of Wisconsin, but also an offering of the traits that manifest the aura of Marinette.  

MARINETTE — Anatomically, the human heart rests inside the upper left side of the chest.

Applying that fact to an anthropomorphic analogy of geographical location, one might say the State of Wisconsin embodies the heart of the nation and that the City of Marinette sits near the geographical heart of Wisconsin.

Taking that analogy one step further carries some people to that little log cabin located just off U.S. 41 after crossing the bridge from the Michigan side of the Menominee River.

“The Marinette Welcome Center is the heart of our community,” said Director of Marketing & Tourism Melissa Ebsch. “I can see so much potential for our Welcome Center and I feel we can do so many great things there.”

Presently, a flurry of change inside the Welcome Center promises to bring a new rhythm to that heart, a rhythm that beats with a bit more of the Marinette flare.

Out-of-state visitors, as well as locals, stepping into the Welcome Center, seeking recreational ideas, merchandise, destination points and other curiosities related to Wisconsin, will encounter a new gift shop and other tourism materials that raise the City of Marinette to a more prominent status when it comes to what the state offers in the way of designated destinations. 

Marinette Marketing & Tourism officials began receiving merchandise this week for to fill the new gift shop. Visitors to the Center can now find ball caps, tumblers and sweatshirts emblazoned with  designs depicting the USS Marinette as well as the signature fishing in Marinette motif. Additional Marinette gift products and keepsakes are planned as the gift shop evolves.

Ebsch pointed out that historically, in addition to its role as a traditional state welcome center, offering maps, informational material and knowledgeable staff full of useful and intriguing Wisconsin details, the Center also provided a focal point for events like the Marinette Logging and Heritage Festival and Christmas in Marinette.  In recent years however, the center became slightly encumbered by aged brochures and other clutter that tended to crowd in on visitors. Moreover, for several months city officials have been searching for ways to augment endorsement of the local attributes that make Marinette unique to both tourists and area residents.

“When the (Welcome Center staff) actually started going through the brochures, there were still some from late 1997 and 1998,” said Marketing & Tourism Assistant Erin Jacobson from her office at the center. “And there were a bunch of random floor racks and metal that was rusty and not necessarily very appealing … it felt very small in here and very cramped.”

Prior to the reorganizing and implementation of changes and additions, Jacobson explained that the Center promoted very little of the local community in favor of a lot of Wisconsin—and even other states

“Which is OK to an extent, but what we have found is that we really want to promote what Marinette has to offer, especially because most of the (Welcome Center) funding comes from the city,” she said. 

According to City Treasurer & Finance Director Jackie Miller, the city allocated approximately $94,000 to the 2020 Welcome Center budget. About $50,000 of that budget goes toward the Logging and Heritage Festival, leaving the remainder to finance operations at the center. Through the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the city also receives about $3,000 in grants for the center. 

“The city is putting up a lot of money to operate (the Welcome Center),” said Marketing Marinette Ad Hoc Committee Chairman Jon Kukuk. “It is funded heavily by the city, somewhat by the state and nothing by the county.”

So in January, with a minimal seed budget of $2,000 and some elbow grease from Welcome Center employees John Hollo and Jon Heraly, marketing and tourism officials began painting, cleaning, organizing, prioritizing destination brochures and ordering merchandise. They revamped and spruced up the center’s capacity as a county and state tourism information center by creating a local marketing gem that offers visitors a more prominent slice of Marinette. They reached out to area businesses, seeking brochures, local restaurant menus and/or business cards to inhabit a prime piece of real estate inside the Welcome Center, a corner inside the center dedicated to the promotion of Marinette restaurants, shopping and recreation. 

Unsure whether the gift shop venture will garner success, Welcome Center staff plans to begin by maintaining a minimum quantity of items on the shelves to avoid large back stocks and to keep the starting budget low. Additionally, that minimal quantity and small budget better facilitates a self-supporting gift shop. 

“(The gift shop) is not really designed to provide much revenue,” Jacobson said. “Obviously, there (will be) a little profit on (sales) but that is to be turned back around and put into more products—or if we need another display.”  

Mainly, the Welcome Center revamp aspires to boost tourism and interest in local markets by promoting Marinette with a bit more enthusiasm.

“I think the thought the process is that we will continue to work with Travel Wisconsin about what we can promote in the state,” said Mayor Steve Genisot. “But (the city) will also take a closer look at how to better promote our own community … and try to get more of a flavor about what more (the City of Marinette) can offer locally.”

Another incentive behind the changes underway at the Center also arose from the expiration of a 2018 marketing and tourism contract between the City of Marinette and Marinette County. The contract terminated at the end of 2019 without renewal, eliminating a significant source of marketing and tourism funds for the city. It cut the marketing budget by approximately $125,000, leaving behind just $25,000.  

“When that happened we just told ourselves that we are going to move forward with our plan of making this the greatest welcome center that we possibly can and offer something that we have never offered before,” Ebsch said.

And just like a heart, everything must pass through the Welcome Center before it can reach those unique and intriguing spots that lie just off the beaten trail.