Strategic planning hot topics: Marketing Crookston, addressing child care shortage

Council members and Finch discuss possibility of investing in efforts to market Crookston; city attorney says 'dynamic' leadership needed to address child care shortage in the community

Mike Christopherson

A successful, vital future for downtown Crookston was the first thing mentioned during a city council strategic planning discussion this week on the “City’s future direction,” but “telling Crookston’s story better” both locally and beyond through enhanced marketing efforts and boldly addressing the community’s continued lack of child care eventually emerged as the most pressing topics discussed.

Telling Crookston’s story better/marketing

    “It’s the question for the ages: How do you inform someone who doesn’t want to be informed?” At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye asked, noting Crookston’s local media that comprehensively cover basically everything the City does and everything going on in town in a variety of formats and on multiple platforms.

    The answer to his question, provided by his colleagues on the council and City Administrator Amy Finch, who led the planning session and has scheduled another one for March 1: Inform people in as many ways and as creatively as possible, using technology and social media that engage different demographics and younger families.

    A “big red flag” in Crookston’s comprehensive plan updated a couple years back, Ward 1 Council Member Kristie Jerde noted, is the “lack of growth in families in this area.” A vibrant community needs an influx of new families, she said.

    “We need to think about what would draw those people to our community instead of East Grand Forks or Thief River Falls,” Jerde continued. “People say we don’t want to compare ourselves to them, but the reality is that we’re competing with them. So what can we do to make them choose us?”

    Mayor Dale Stainbrook noted that Crookston a couple years ago was named one of the safest cities in Minnesota by a research firm, and Crookston’s tap water was named the best in the state as well. Crookston has top-notch parks and recreational facilities, and is one of only a handful of cities in the state home to a University of Minnesota campus, the mayor said. The price for a new home lot in Crookston is cheaper than in many other towns in the area, he added, and property taxes are reasonable here, too. But how many people know about all of those good things, the mayor wondered.

    “We don’t market good enough,” Stainbrook said.

    Ward 5 Council Member Joe Kresl said people – and by “people” he means parents – should be able to sit down with their laptop or phone and a couple simple clicks, taps, scrolls or swipes later be able to know what Crookston has to offer, recreationally and otherwise, for their kids.

    “We need to make sure that’s all there,” Kresl said.

    Last year, Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terri Heggie made a pitch to the city council to lead Crookston’s marketing efforts, for a fee. The council ended up not going in that direction, but initially in the 2021 budget process set aside some money for potential marketing purposes.

    Melbye said it might be time to pay a professional marketing person once and for all.

    “Why aren’t we willing to spend money on a marketing person to do all of this?” he wondered, adding that the person could raise the profile of Crookston Sports Center and develop a master calendar of every single thing happening in Crookston and then promote those events.

    While not voicing opposition to such a hire, Finch reminded everyone that doing so would add another salary to the City budget.

    “Well, like everything else, you weigh the cost versus the benefit,” Melbye said.

    Jerde added that a marketing position would likely generate revenue through better attendance at events and activities that are more successful as a result of the enhanced marketing efforts. She suggested the possibility of making revenue generation part of the job description, and if the revenue generated is at a City facility, such as CSC, the added revenue could help offset the marketing person’s salary.

Child care

    City Attorney Charles “Corky” Reynolds attended the strategic planning session because he was needed to offer his insight on other agenda items. But as he listened to talk of boosting downtown and marketing Crookston more, he interjected “as a citizen” and not the city attorney.

    “We need child care,” Reynolds said emphatically. “I don’t have (young) children and I’m just the city attorney, and people are coming up to me, saying ‘Why don’t we have child care?’”

    Reynolds said the City needs to be bold and “dynamic” in finally addressing a problem that for at least the past few years local decision-makers, stakeholders and big business leaders have said is the #1 hindrance to Crookston’s growth, whether it’s new jobs, more housing, an increased tax base, or simply having more people choose to not just move to Crookston, but stick around.

    Reynolds said being bold and dynamic means exploring properties in the City for a potential child care center. It means considering building something new. It means, he continued, thinking beyond expanding home-based daycare operations because that won’t put a big enough dent in the shortage of licensed slots.

    When some council members mentioned increased regulations and a lack of adequate staffing being major hurdles to greatly increasing child care opportunities in Crookston, Reynolds was undeterred.

    “We have to take charge. I can’t say that enough,” he said. “We have partners, we have the school, we have industry, we have people crying out for child care. People are looking to the City of Crookston to really be dynamic in their leadership. We can’t back off this.”

    Reynolds noted that the City of Warren recently secured a $1.8 million grant from the USDA for a child care center in that community 30 miles north of Crookston with a population of around 1,700.

    “If they can do it, we can do it,” he said.

    Finch, who is changing the city council’s annual strategic planning process by replacing one daylong session on a Saturday with multiple two-hour sessions in the evening, previously said she’s also participating in strategic, collaborative discussions with leaders of other organizations in the community in the hope that they can share resources and rally around various initiatives that benefit Crookston, and minimize independent efforts that are sometimes redundant/duplicative and potentially result in an overall diminished impact.

    Such joint efforts could possibly find an impactful solution in the area of child care, she noted.

    “But I would like for us to come together more than when it is absolutely necessary,” Finch said.