Friday November 30, 2012

DYLAN J. BAKER

Manchester Journal

MANCHESTER -- A marketing initiative under development that aims to help promote Manchester got an early hearing during the Manchester Selectboard meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

A group of local business owners gave a presentation on the initiative, which may also help determine how the town can better utilize its budget to get the word out about the town’s strengths and attractiveness.

During last March’s town meeting, voters authorized town officials to set aside $16,000 for marketing purposes from the local option tax, according to John O’Keefe, the town manager of Manchester.

A committee was formed last June to undertake this marketing initiative. The committee is made up of a handful of local business owners on a volunteer basis.

"Hopefully the marketing program for Manchester is going to address the needs of the community in the most effective way possible because we will be using taxpayers dollars," said Ron Mancini, committee member and owner of Mother Myrick’s.

The other committee members include Grant Turner from Long Ago and Far Away, Chip Ams from Finn and Stone, Michele Kropp from Gringo Jack’s, Bob Sterns from the Manchester Country Club, Mike Kilburn from Dee’s Electric, Peg Montague from Sotheby’s, and Joe Madeira. The committee presented a "SWOT" analysis of an internal study done on local business in Manchester. A SWOT analysis is a structured planning method that looks into the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of a given project or business venture. It involves specifying the objective of a business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors the determine was is favorable or unfavorable to achieve an objective.

A questionnaire was given out to over 300 local businesses with over 150 responding. Among important issues discussed in the questionnaire involved the decline of the ski and golf industries, opportunities of youths and young professionals, and the strength of the economy, in relation on how to create better marketing opportunities.

The questionnaire first asked if you own a business, are employed in the town of Manchester, self-employed, retired, a student, or are thinking of starting a business in the area. The overwhelming majorities were business owners and those who work in Manchester, which was no surprise to the committee.

The questionnaire then asked participants what they see as the strengths of the community, with the majority choosing the quality of life in Manchester as its top choice.

"When people choose to live here they are willing to sacrifice some income," said Grant Turner. "People understand how great it is to live in a place like this and they choose to spend more money to live in a place like this."

The other end of the spectrum had the lack of amenities to attract young professionals as the largest weakness facing the community.

O’Keefe brought up that fact, which to many agreed, that if a young professional looked, they could find things to do during the day with many good hiking trails in the area and a recreation park in town. It is the night life that keeps most young professionals bored during those late night hours.

"The qualitative comments on the young professionals came in many different forms and really independent from other issues," said

Turner, "but why would I come here after college? What is there to do at night?"

Another weakness that took center stage in the discussion was a perception that Manchester was resistant to change. The committee did not quite understand, along with the board members, why this should be a problem. With the new park house be built at the Rec Center and the downtown improvement project becoming "function junction" change is happening despite the somewhat weak economy.

As the questionnaire moved into the opportunities portion of the study it was unclear what the community’’s strongest opportunities were. Coordinated events were a popular choice. Social media also was popular among participants along with promotion of community assets and the business and arts alliance through the town.

The next step in the process were threats, which might be the most important part of a SWOT analysis. Once the committee can pinpoint possible threats they can focus on how to diminish them. The overwhelming threat was seen to be high taxation and the high cost of living in Manchester, which also is linked to another threat, a weak economy.

The top responses turned in by the SWOT analysis the were quality of life (strength), lack of amenities for young professionals (weakness), and high taxation (threats). In the comment section of the analysis some of the unique comments that floated to the surface were both positive and negative. Among those positive comments included strong schools in the area, along with local ownership of much of the town’s businesses. Negative comments included lack of affordable housing, high rents and a lack of transportation.

Most of the comments were geared toward concerns the participants had which is not uncommon during the comment stages of a SWOT analysis.

According to the committee, people who may be upset tend to leave comments and those who have no problems tend not to comment.

With the internal study complete, the next phase of the marketing initiative will focus on the external study, which gears towards the consumer, visitor, and home owner in the area. By combining statistics from the internal study and the external study, the committee hopes to be able to create a logical marketing plan for Manchester.