Marketing Manchester and delivering on taxpayer expectations

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The recent report in the Manchester Journal regarding the sharp rise in Manchester's local option tax revenue for the second quarter of this year is an acknowledgement that the $25,000 investment made by Manchester taxpayers to the Manchester Marketing Initiative, coupled with matching funds and additional contributions from the private sector is yielding positive results. The newly formed Manchester Business Association is overseeing how the money is being spent, focusing primarily on social and digital media, both of which have the ability to provide the community with measurable results and clear direction.

The primary digital driver is the website, manchestervermont.com, created by two local entrepreneurs, Kate Pace and Riley Moore, who are the developers and curators of data for the site and provide content and site management services to the Manchester Business Association. The site includes a free listing to any and all Manchester businesses, which includes the opportunity to receive prime placements, links and social media features at very reasonable costs. So far 60 businesses have opted for these added marketing features.

Social media includes frequent Facebook and Instagram postings about local events, businesses, cultural and recreational attractions. The website and social media campaigns are enhanced by frequent emails and the use of paid search and remarketing techniques that deliver heightened exposure of the Manchester brand targeted to specific geographic and demographic audiences.

The quality of the website and the spotlight it puts on all there is to do in Manchester has attracted visitors and followers as well as the interest of travel and feature writers who now want to write about our lifestyle and amenities to an audience eager to discover what we have to offer. These dollars, coupled with marketing investments made by companies like the Kimpton Taconic Hotel and Hampton Inn and Suites, who are aggressively promoting Manchester, are providing marketing exposure beyond the ability of any one business.

At the 2016 town meeting voters asked for measurements to determine if our marketing money was being spent wisely. Here are the results to date:

- In the eighteen months since its launch, the website, manchestervermont.com, has moved from page 32 to No. 1 in Google search.

- Since March 15, 2017 the website has had over 61,000 unique users with 209,000 website page views.

- During this same period email subscribers have gone from 260 to 2,265 with over 4000 Facebook followers generating a reach now exceeding 85,000 people in the last 30 days.

- People following Manchester Vermont on Instagram now exceeds 6,700 followers generating 64,000 Instagram impressions in the past 30 days alone.

The sixty businesses who have purchased premier listings on the site have had almost 8,000 direct visits to their own websites. As you would expect, lodging, dining and shopping have received the majority of these visits but assets like Hildene and Riverwalk are in the top ten in terms of numbers of people clicking through to their sites.

In 2017, articles about Manchester, some inspired by our website content, have appeared in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Travel and Leisure, Boston.com, The Providence Journal, in blogs and other publications.

If you are not all "geeked" out by these numbers, they translate to more visitors to our town, its businesses, historic and cultural assets. With more people interested in Manchester than in recent memory, here's what we can look forward to over the next few years:

- Increasing local option tax revenue;

- Attracting capital investment from and for new businesses;

- Energizing existing businesses and the filling of vacant spaces;

- A greater desire to own a home here, increasing resale values and increasing the grand list;

- A greater demand for services, which helps every employer and employee in Manchester;

- Increasing wages making Manchester an attractive and more affordable place to live, work and play.

The last eight years have been hard for many impacted by the national economy. The courage and vision of Manchester taxpayers to vote for dollars to market the town is producing great results. However, it needs to be sustained because the world is fickle, and without a constant reminder of who we are and what we are about, this momentum will evaporate. The Manchester Business Association has become the only organization whose principal goal is to market Manchester. We, the taxpayers along with the business owners of Manchester, need to get behind this effort and continue to fund the marketing campaigns for years to come. Only through this collective and persistent effort can we provide some semblance of certainty that our economic future and cultural heritage is preserved.

To my Manchester business colleagues, I urge all of you to contribute 1/10th of 1 percent of your gross annual revenue to the Manchester Business Association whose members are working hard to improve your business. You should also purchase some of the enhanced marketing services available on the website so you can receive the highest possible benefit from this direct response.

To my fellow Manchester taxpayers, I urge you to support these efforts by urging town government to include marketing funds in future budgets and voting yes to make sure they stay there. If we are smart about it, these funds do not have to be a burden on us. Here are two suggestions to start the discussion:

- Fund these marketing efforts by dedicating any increases in local option tax revenues over the 2016 receipts directly to marketing.

- Allocate 50 percent of the additional property taxes generated from all new and repurposed commercial and industrial development since 2016 to marketing rather than putting all of this increased revenue into the general fund.

These are just two ways that, if implemented, would go a long way to sustaining Manchester's vitality no matter what the economic cycles of the future bring. Let's do this.

Ron Mancini is a resident of Manchester.


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