Council delays decision on branding for the town of Glocester, citing budget concerns

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Glocester Economic Development Commission Chairperson Bernadette MacArthur

GLOCESTER – The Glocester Economic Development Commission would like to put Glocester on the map, figuratively. That means creating a, “brand,” that identifies the town in a particular way, advertises it as such, and, hopefully, draws people to the location increasing customer traffic for local businesses. The biggest obstacle right now, according to the Town Council, is the cost.

Branding involves creating a consistent and coherent image across all the touchpoints, such as websites, social media, packaging and advertising. To achieve that end, the EDC asked the Town Council to set aside $25,000 to hire a branding company two years ago, utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which the council did at the time. Now, the EDC would like to spend that money. However, at the recent meeting, the council voted to once again postpone that decision until the budget is finalized for the upcoming fiscal year.

Resident Walter Steere Jr., a former School Committee member, praised the work of the EDC, but suggested that money could be better spent.

“I think we have better places to spend $25,000,” Steere told the council. “The last two years we have been taxed at the maximum amount. Maybe this money could be used for capital projects.”

The EDC put the project out for bid last month, but the proposals came in well over the designated amount. Bernadette MacArthur, chairperson of the EDC, explained that previous bids came in at more than $50,000.

“We kind of got everybody’s Disney package, I guess,” MacArthur told the council.

Since then, the EDC proposed moving forward with a second bid process, making it clear that the bids could not exceed $25,000. MacArthur said they could work with that. In order to do so, however, the council would need to commit the funds to the project.

“We firmly believe in the value the place branding initiative would provide to the town,” said MacArthur. “We see the allocation of funds to this project as making a small investment in an effort which will allow constituents of this town to establish and control a narrative around who Glocester is, solidify and memorialize the rural character of the town we all value and want to preserve. This will allow potential new residents, potential new visitors, potential new businesses to see our brand and easily gain a concept and understanding of not just what Glocester has to offer, but what Glocester wants to offer, and know if they are a good fit for us or not.”

The project, she added, will be in line with the town’s comprehensive plan and the EDC’s vision for local businesses, which sets out an Economic Development goal to, “encourage economic development that aligns with the town’s rural character and also expands and diversifies the town’s tax base.”

“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge an awareness of where the majority of the council seems to stand on this,” said MacArthur, “and I very much appreciate the transparency there, but for the town to spend zero dollars of ARPA funds on an economic effort is a little bit confusing to me.”

Council members agreed that branding is a good idea.

“There’s a misconception that it is just a sign, a logo. It’s not,” said Town Council President William Worthy, who was previously a member of the EDC. “It’s more than that. This would, hopefully, encourage people to drive out of their towns to come here and shop in retail stores here.”

Worthy agreed with Steere, however, that residents have been, “hammered,” by taxes over the last two years.

“Glocester doesn’t have a spending problem,” he said. “They have an income problem.”

Worthy, who owns Big Bear Hunting and Fishing in town, said he makes a point of advertising to draw customers from outside of the town. The cost is not cheap, he said.

“You’re looking at big dollars to try to get people to drive over different town lines.” said Worthy. “That is where we get the disconnect. When people say $25,000 to go to a sign or $25,000 to go to our roads, and using ARPA funds to try to facilitate, that’s where the disconnect happens, even though we know it’s more than just a sign.”

He added that the town has many businesses, some of which may be unknown to people, such as a new bike shop.

“What you guys are looking to do is to let people know we have all those things,” said Worthy.

MacArthur explained that the proposal was very lengthy, including research, community engagement, focus groups, surveys, data collection and analysis, development of options and a myriad of other tasks. That includes planning how to address and utilize the information going forward.

Ashley Sarji was on the EDC from 2018 until January of this year, and was both a chairperson and vice chairperson during that time. She later explained that the council originally came to the EDC for suggestions on how to best utilize the ARPA funds they had available.

“It allows us to identify who we are as a collective,” Sarji told NRI NOW of the initiative. “It allows the community to define itself for the world. As a marketing approach, it is hugely beneficial.”

Many towns, she said, use branding to market their, “product.”  Glocester, she added, has an incredible amount to offer, including walking trails on Land Trust properties, antique stores, the village itself with its shops, and other assets.

“All of those things will emerge as this agency works within the community to determine what the community, as a whole, is, and what is most valuable,” said Sarji.

The efforts and the presentation delivered by MacArthur did not fall on deaf ears, but there are still finances to consider, Stephen Arnold, council vice president, reminded those present.

“First of all, thank you for all the blood, sweat, and tears you and your crew have put in over the years,” said Arnold.

But, he added, he agrees ARPA funds should not be spent until a final number for the budget is determined.

Currently, there is $116,339 left in the town’s ARPA funds.

“We need to see where the budget lands,” said Arnold. “There may be something we can take out of operations and use towards capital. I just think there are a lot of things to be looked at. I’m not saying this shouldn’t be considered. I’m saying I’m not comfortable obligating any ARPA funds to anything, any initiative until we’re satisfied with the budget.”

“I hate to do this, because you have been tabled more times,” he said.

Arnold suggested tabling a decision on the funding until the final budget is completed, which the council then approved. The project is scheduled to be revisited at the council’s meeting on Thursday, May 2.

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