Could the Crookston community accommodate an app?

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    The Crookston City Council Ways & Means Committee listened to a presentation Monday from Megan Pederson of Vocal Fuel LLC who proposed communication technology to support the community through an online app called “Community Voice.” The committee initially ended the conversation agreeing the app could be beneficial and were convinced to preliminarily add the startup cost to the budget to be reviewed in the near future. Later in the meeting, when discussing the 2022 levy, some council members wondered if adding that project over other items that were cut, such as a walk-in cooler for the Golden Link Senior Center, would be the right choice.

    Pederson, whose company was recently hired by the city to tabulate results from their community survey, started her presentation off by setting the scene that not everyone, either new to the community or having lived there for a while, has the same experience and has access to the information they need or want. She said her experiences after moving out of the area made her feel “uneasy” and “un-welcomed” due to lack of information about her surroundings and gave her a different perspective.

    “This passive communication has to change; my communication-based business Community Voice mobile app is the solution to some of those things,” Pederson explained. “It marries municipalities and the city, businesses and colleges and chambers and constituents. It doesn’t stop there; you don’t think about the guests stopping through town. There’s a whole group of people that pass through your community and they don’t have access to those things that they can partake in.”

    “Maybe they would want to live here, maybe they would stay; they don’t know where to get information from,” she added. “The city website is currently being looked at; this information (on the app) would be available for all people.”

    Pederson says her app would have a personalized plan for its user with a custom feed and could include push notifications from local schools and the city, plus constituents could let the city know if there’s a pothole that needs to be fixed or if a car needs to be moved for snow removal through a two-way system. She also touched on the community calendar portion and how they could collaborate with other nearby communities.

    The app’s first phase was completed the day of her presentation and Pederson was able to give a brief overview from her phone, but was unable to provide a complete demonstration due to a developer’s absence caused by Hurricane Ida. Pederson added that she hopes for the app to be finalized by January 24, 2022. The cost of the two-year contract she proposed would be a $10,000 startup fee plus $1,500 annually.

    City Administrator Amy Finch said she felt the app was a “wonderful idea” and thinks it “fits with goals that attract people to the community,” and could find room in the budget if the council would like to move forward.

    Ward 4 council member Don Cavalier asked Pederson if she had been in contact with the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Crookston Development Partnership (DCDP) or Crookston Visitors Bureau (CVB) about the proposed app, and felt that would be a good step, to which Pederson replied that she hadn’t. She mentioned that her “initial target” was with city government. When asked by At-Large council member Tom Vedbraaten who would keep the app updated, Pederson said most information would be populated from Google plus administrators (such as the city) would have access to add and remove information and for cleanup.

    “If you wanted to, you could talk to the Chamber and for a dollar amount they could buy in (on) the app?” At-Large council member Wayne Melbye asked.

    “Yes, and the first approximately 10 or so cities that sign contracts will be a pilot group and app developers could make this the best experience on what those cities want,” Pederson replied.  

     Ward 1 council member Kristie Jerde said she thought the idea was exciting yet felt there would have to be “a lot of community buy-in” to make the project work well and later inquired about a desktop version for those that don’t have access to a smart phone or tablet, plus hoped for work forms for residents to relay concerns or needs. Pederson confirmed there would be a desktop version, but some features like GPS and setting geographic region preferences would be limited on that version. She also confirmed that the planned two-way communication would allow the city to hear from residents.

    “We really need to involve the CVB and Chamber and others need to be a big part of it; some of those things they are doing and should be doing and we’d be doubling up without including them,” added Ward 2 council member Steve Erickson. “They’re the ones that bring the events and it would be really important to have all three of those entities (referring also to the DCDP) for sure on board. We don’t want to see that we don’t need the Chamber anymore, we need to make sure everyone is on board with this.”

    Pederson said the app is in no way trying to push out an organization like the Chamber and that after the last decade of studying communication she sees Crookston as a case study as there are “gaps”, “redundancies” and “communication problems” and felt her app could “easily be a solution” without pushing someone out of the circle. She also added that the with the difficulty of the city’s current website, noting that she has a Master’s degree and was not able to figure out how to sign her kids up for swimming lessons plus hinted that she started to look for where the next nearest pool was, that the app could help streamline and allow more people to get information.

    Erickson spoke further saying that he has been a huge proponent of a master events calendar and that the city talked about it a couple years ago, but admitted it’s “not an easy task” to have just one place and a “neutral site” that helps stream off to individual websites.

    “If all these entities can get together to have a master calendar I think it would be good for the city, county, school district, etc.” said Erickson.

Megan Pederson of Vocal Fuel LLC appears at the City Council Ways & Means Committee meeting Monday