One year later Vermillion Now! focuses on meeting goals

It's been a year since the Vermillion Now! capital campaign exceeded its goal of securing more than $1.5 million in pledges and donations.

Now members of the committee overseeing the campaign are beginning to put those funds to use.

"We are partnering with Lawrence and Schiller (a Sioux Falls-based marketing agency) to do the marketing for the campaign," said Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company (VCDC). "That was a process that took a few months of interviewing different marketing firms. That was done by myself and the Vermillion Now! Advisory Governance Council."

Lawrence and Schiller currently works with the Governor's Office of Economic Development, and with the University of South Dakota.

"They do have a great reputation and a lot of background in the type of thing that we are trying to market for the community," Howe said. "It just seems like a natural fit, and with the fact that USD recently hired them to do their marketing, we think that there is some potential cost-sharing involved and also the message that is going out may not be the same message (from Vermillion Now! and USD) but I think they will complement each other quite well if we use the same agency."

Last year, over 100 local investors pledged amounts ranging from a high of $450,000 pledged by the city of Vermillion in $90,000 increments over the next five years, to several one-time gifts of $500 or less to the Vermillion Now! Campaign.

Last year, a committee made up of approximately 20 people settled on several main goals for the capital campaign, including new business recruitment and expansion, marketing, workforce development and entrepreneurial development. The capital campaign was launched in January 2009 after an analysis of the Vermillion community by the VCDC board demonstrated that the community needed funding to stimulate further economic development.

The VCDC's study uncovered some disturbing trends. In comparison to a number of other communities, such as Watertown, Madison, Brookings and Yankton, the study revealed that Vermillion has much lower wages. Vermillion also has significantly higher poverty rates — somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 percent higher, according to a report Howe gave to the Vermillion City Council in April 2009.

The VCDC also determined that from a population growth standpoint, there's been slower overall growth in Vermillion during the past 15 years when compared to other major communities in South Dakota, and historically, there's been very little population growth in the community in the past century. The low wages, high poverty and slow growth are likely linked to the types of employment opportunities offered in Vermillion, Howe said in April.

"We want to make our community seem very attractive and appealing to outside entities," Howe said, addressing the goals of the newly struck relationship with Lawrence and Schiller. "For them (USD), it's students, and with us, it's businesses. It's going to be a nice partnership."

Vermillion Now! signed a contract with the advertising agency effective the beginning of this month.

"We have had a preliminary meeting, and we have talked about the idea that Vermillion is built around 'smart.' That's the premise we're working with right now. That may not be our catch phrase or our tagline, but that's the thought that's going to drive the message," Howe said.

The advertising agency will help Vermillion Now! create an economic development-specific website, and work on "branding" the community, he said.

"We will then focus on individual industry sectors," Howe said. "The first thing we want to do is get that look, feel and message out there, and then when we have our website and materials, then we are going to start targeting different industries that have been identified in the Vermillion Now! process."

Ultimately, the partnership between Vermillion Now! and Lawrence and Schiller will produce various media products to help inform target audiences of Vermillion's strong points.

"The message is going to get out through the website, direct marketing to industry, and there will be billboard presence and radio presence and print media through press releases and public relations," Howe said. "We want to get our message out into different trade publications, and use a variety of multi-media."

It is hoped, Howe said, that much of the work involving the development of the website and the "branding" of the Vermillion community will be completed by this fall. Those resources then can be used when Howe and other city representatives visit trade shows to communicate with various industry representatives.

"The primary goals we have with Vermillion Now! are new jobs, and retention of the jobs we have," Howe said. "We are also looking at expansion of the city's tax base, and our goal is to provide better jobs for people to help reduce the poverty rate in the community.

"The marketing campaign will help get our message out to prospective businesses," he said. "But there's also a local component to it. We need to remind the local community of what we're doing, why we are doing it, and help them to realize what a wonderful place we live in. We have such a heavy commuter population, so if we can promote what a great community we have, we can hopefully convince more people to move here."

Other goals of Vermillion Now! include purchase of property designed to someday be the site of new industry, along with other industrial areas in the community that have already been developed.

"We found that we were limited with the types of industries we could recruit, for example, a heavy industry," Howe said. "So we have purchased 20 acres of land and have an option for more just directly across the street from Masaba, and that will enable us to put more industries like a Masaba in that area."

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