Last month, Arbor Vitae town chairman Frank Bauers told the rest of the town board at its July 17 meeting the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce was “thinking about changing their brand.”
He had visited with Krystal Westfahl, the chamber’s executive director, the previous week.
“They would drop the names of Arbor Vitae and Woodruff off their brand and instead of the ‘Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce’ it would simply say, ‘Let’s Minocqua,’” he said. “Arbor Vitae and Woodruff would have no name recognition at all,” Bauers said, adding Westfahl asked him what he thought of that.
“I told her, ‘Not much,’” Bauers said.
What ensued was a lengthy discussion among town board members, the consensus being if Arbor Vitae wasn’t going to be included in whatever new branding the chamber came up with, the town would leave the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce.
At the time, Westfahl was on vacation, but when he was reached for comment the day after the July 17 meeting, chamber president Jim Hartwig said he’d heard about the Arbor Vitae Town Board’s discussion and emphasized whatever was being considered it wasn’t much more than in discussion phase.
“If it’s what I heard they discussed, there’s a hell of a misunderstanding somewhere along the line,” he said then. “Everything we’ve got right now is like a five minute draft. By no means, should it be taken as final. It’s just something we are at least discussing. It didn’t say ‘Arbor Vitae’ and Krystal and me agreed with him (Bauers) that’s an easy thing to add.”
At last week’s Arbor Vitae Town Board meeting, Westfahl and Hartwig were there to explain things.
Cutting to the punch
Westfahl gave a handout to each member of the town board which included several different versions of new chamber logos, some which say “Let’s Minocqua,” but also include Arbor Vitae and Woodruff.
Also included in the packet of information were the results of a study done by an outside marketing firm.
Westfahl wasted no time, saying she would “cut to the punch.”
“We do not want to remove Arbor Vitae or Woodruff from the initial logo of our organization,” she said.
What was planned at the chamber level, Westfahl said, was to communicate what was being considered to Bauers, Woodruff town chairman Mike Timmons, the room tax commission and ultimately, both town boards.
“Along with possibly opening this up for public comment,” she said. “So, we have a good communication plan in place to make sure everyone is heard. We don’t want to offend ... we just want to make sure you understand where it started and how it’s progressing.”
Over the next several minutes, Westfahl went through the information packet and some of the background to the different logos being considered.
“I just like that our name’s on it,” town supervisor Ryan Johnson, who’d been one of the chamber’s harsher critics at the July 17 town board meeting, said. “I think it’s important if you take our money, our name should be on it.”
“Well, it’s actually your tourists’ money,” Westfahl said.
“Correct,” Johnson said. “Our tourists and our town. We should be ... we all are one community. Most people don’t even know where town lines begin and end.”
“They don’t,” Westfahl said. “We saw it through our data, through our research. Even some of our community members and our membership didn’t realize what the Minocqua area really consisted of. Many of them thought Lac du Flambeau, St. Germain, Boulder Junction, Hazelhurst ... we’re all part of that bigger, broader, Minocqua area and true, our visitors don’t know.”
“Some businesses in our town think they’re in Minocqua,” Bauers said. “‘Culver’s, Hwy. 51, Minocqua.’ That’s one.”
He echoed Johnson’s earlier comment, saying he felt the town board would agree as long as Arbor Vitae was still incorporated in the logo and marketing, there wouldn’t be an issue.
“We realize Minocqua is the focal point of the area,” he said. “And we realize we’re paying about 15% of your room tax and getting a very small return on events in our town. We’re paying room tax to advertise events in Minocqua.”
Things are changing
Westfahl said since 2015, there’s been a shift pushed by the state of Wisconsin to have funding for chambers of commerce go more for marketing and advertising than for physical, logistical support of different events.
Most municipalities such as Arbor Vitae designate their room tax revenue to help fund events such as fireworks during the Fourth of July, but there have been a few which have used the money for other things. In St. Germain, for example, the town board at a recent meeting was approached by the fire department for $25,000 from the town’s room tax revenues, which would be used to pay for half of the cost of a new power-elevated cot for the town’s fledgling ambulance service.
Town chairman Tom Christensen was asked during that meeting if there’s any restriction in state law regarding how room tax revenues are spent.
“Not for the town,” he said. “But there is a restriction on the chamber (of commerce),” which splits the tax proceeds with the town. “What this board has tried to do in the past is to use those funds for something that benefits the whole community, which includes the visitors who come to stay with us — because the money comes from them.”
At last week’s Arbor Vitae meeting, town supervisor Brian Nerdahl asked Westfahl what the town would be restricted to when it came to the use of its share of room tax money.
“Well, there is some talk (in the state legislature) that there will be some restrictions,” she said. “There were some municipalities that were using that money on fire trucks.”
Westfahl said reasoning municipalities who used room tax money to help fund a fire truck purchase centered around the need for visitor safety.
“You can wiggle that explanation a little bit,” she said. “There’s some gray area.”
She said she wasn’t sure what the administration of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers will do in that respect.
Bauers reiterated an earlier comment about the Arbor Vitae name staying on the Minocqua chamber logo and in its marketing.
“I think what you’re hearing from our town board is we want our name included,” he said.
“Loud and clear,” Westfahl said. “Absolutely.”
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]