Tuesday, September 30, 2014

BIA, Chamber begin brainstorming

Marking the first meeting of a promising partnership, members of the Downtown BIA and Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce met yesterday evening to brainstorm ideas to improve commerce here in town and the surrounding area.
The 30-plus individuals on hand at La Place Rendez-Vous agreed they no longer can look at Fort Frances as a mill town, and must move ahead with a positive attitude, more teamwork, and new ideas to forge a future together.

One idea out of last night’s meeting that will be acted upon immediately is the production and distribution of town maps.
These will be simple maps of Fort Frances printed on one side of a 8.5”x 11” sheet of paper, with information on geographical highlights or events on the flipside.
These will be available to all businesses to show and give out to customers if, for example, they ask where they can buy a particular product, get a particular service done, or eat out.
This ties into the idea of having pride in Fort Frances and its business community.
Several people at the meeting pointed out they should help each other and be obligated to refer customers to another business if, for instance, their business does not carry a certain product but they are aware another local one does.
The map also might include spots tourists most commonly ask about, such as the LCBO and Beer Store.
Similarly, the idea of an “app” with a map of Fort Frances and all of its businesses and notable locations also was mentioned.
A second idea is a project being worked on by the Rainy River “Best Start” Network inspired by an initiative called “Mice on Main.”
Speech language pathologist Ann Anderson, who sits on the network, said she discovered the initiative when visiting Greenville, S.C.
“It was a project done in their downtown area because their economic situation was not good,” she explained.
Anderson said a high school student came up with an idea of creating a book called “Mice on Main,” which both incorporated the revitalization of the downtown area and encouraged child literacy.
The books tell the story of mice venturing out on in the city. Children use the book to find out to where the mice went and literally look for them in the downtown area.
When they look, they will find metal “mice” affixed permanently to various spots as described in the book.
“It encouraged school kids to come downtown to find mice. It encouraged Girl Guides,” noted Anderson.
“When I went there, I have a girlfriend in South Carolina, and her children were so excited, so excited to bring me, as a tourist, downtown to explore and find these,” she recalled.
Anderson said such an idea could be done here.
“Obviously, it wouldn’t be ‘Mice on Main.’ [But] there’s been many ideas—‘Skunks on Scott,’ ‘Sasquatch on Scott,’” she noted.
“Best Start” has been looking for a private partner to be involved, and has pitched the idea to the BIA, which, in response, was excited about it and has appointed a representative to sit on the sub-committee working on the project.
The “Best Start” Network is a group of organizations that work together to provide serves for children from birth through age six.
Meanwhile, Doug Anderson (Betty’s) mentioned a number of ideas at last night’s meeting, ranging from a park around the paper mill (for which plans already exist) to focusing on post-secondary education and turning the knowledge of people in the district, such as those trained in safety, into a saleable intellectual property.
Others reiterated they have to find a way to get tourists coming over the border to stop here, with many voicing support for a casino (ideally with a water park in it), as well as other family-oriented attractions.
Several people also said they would like to see more events, such as a large-scale minor hockey tournament or cross-country skiing competition, come here and give a big boost to businesses.
Yet others said the community needs a vision, an identity, an idea of “what we are and how do we become that,” as Dale Fortes of Boston Pizza noted.
Improving customer service, how to bring young people back to the community, starting a small business, and how businesses need to market themselves to mining companies also were topics broached last night.
The groups will meet again in a month and this time be joined by a third party, the International Falls Chamber of Commerce, which has expressed interest in working together with businesses on this side of the border.

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