O’Fallon has hired a St. Louis marketing firm for economic development rather than stay with the local company that had been working with the city.
In an 8-6 vote during Monday’s meeting, the City Council approved an agreement with Atomic Dust for $42,000. The Fource Group, whose contract expired Dec. 2, was not selected.
Atomic Dust had an hourly rate of $150, whereas The Fource Group’s was $240.
Several aldermen expressed their concerns and wanted more time to go over the proposals, but an amendment to return the resolution back to the Community Development Committee failed in a 6-8 vote.
The staff had recommended Atomic Dust, and the CDC had sent it to council with a 3-1 recommendation.
Aldermen who supported making the decision Dec. 4 and trying the new firm included Ned Drolet, Kevin Hagarty, Ray Holden, Robert Kueker, Andrew Lopinot, Richard Meile, Mark Morton and Dan Witt.
Those who wanted to delay the decision, and voted against Atomic Dust included Jerry Albrecht, David Cozad, Matthew Gilreath, Courtney Marsh, Ross Rosenberg and Matt Smallheer.
In their recommendation, the staff explained that, in 2016, the city took a more direct, scientific approach to economic development, which included the creation of a new website, targeted strategies to specific businesses, and public/private partnerships.
In 2017, the city sought proposals for marketing-geared service and to assist the city in improving economic development and business attraction.
Atomic Dust will perform an audit of O’Fallon’s existing marketing materials and strategy, and provide instructions on marketing best practices, brand guidelines, and information/sell sheets — both for the city and specific industries.
The city staff will use the materials created by Atomic Dust to deploy a concentrated and aggressive, ongoing economic development outreach campaign.
In addition, Atomic Dust will perform an audit on the current economic development website, www.ofallonillinois.org, and implement design and development recommendations to improve the website. Atomic Dust will audit and work to improve website structure and design, user experience/visitor interaction, and SEO (search engine optimization). Atomic Dust will also implement changes and provide recommendations that will allow city staff to provide ongoing maintenance the website.
City Administrator Walter Denton and Assistant to the City Administrator Grant Litteken gave an overview of the process to select the new firm, in their update to the CDC Nov. 27.
They introduced Mike Spakowski and Erika Cruse of Atomic Dust to the committee. No one representing Atomic Dust came to the council meeting Monday, and Smallheer said he was voting no because no one was in attendance.
Several others expressed dismay that the firm was not present.
“It speaks volumes that nobody is here,” Gilreath said.
The staff report said that the intent is for staff to be responsible for the implementation of the strategies developed by Atomic Dust to maximize the city’s control over economic development and minimize ongoing costs.
The $42,000 in cost is all project-oriented, the marketing and website audits and assessment engagement, and there will be no ongoing retainer fee or monthly costs.
If the City Council is pleased with the results, the FY18-19 budget could include funds for the Rieder Road economic development marketing plan.
Most vocal in opposition was Gilreath, who repeatedly said he trusted the city staff on recommendations, but wanted more time to research the matter. He saw no need to rush a decision and wanted to find out the differences between the top three proposals.
“This is new territory for us. This is only the second year we did this,” he said, noting that they need to think of long-term success.
“Some things the Fource Group did really well, and there were things we can learn from,” he said.
Gilreath also said that City Council members had told residents that they would support local businesses, and yet they are going with a St. Louis firm.
Cozad explained that he had emailed more questions to officials and thought the proposals were “apples and oranges.” He wanted to be more educated on the company in order to make a decision and wanted to figure out what would be in the city’s best interest.
Rosenberg wanted more time, too.
“This is pretty important. We know what we’re getting with The Fource Group. We need to get more answers about Atomic Dust,” Rosenberg said.
In support of the new agreement, Morton said he talked to a person he knew in digital marketing, who referred to Atomic Dust as a “stellar company.” He also said he could not support spending $90 more per hour for a company.
Mayor Herb Roach said he witnessed how “thorough” the staff questioned the firms and how “diligent” they were.
“They know better than anyone else what tools are needed to get the job done,” Roach said. “They wanted to move forward with a new presence and make the changes.”
Roach compared the outside search to using other law firms than those in town.
“They might have more tools and better tools,” he said. “They had to decide what’s best to move our city forward.”
In other news, Kueker announced that a Ward 2 Town Hall meeting would take place Thursday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in City Hall council chambers.