The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners gave approval Thursday night to seek a grant to help the city market its massive surplus of water, but dove into the issue with some degree of reluctance.
Board members voted 5-0 to file the grant application with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a federal-state partnership, only after a deluge of concerns were addressed.
Mount Airy has been vigorously trying to sell water to outside entities for several years, in the wake of closings by local textile companies that were its main customers. At last report, daily consumption was only about one-fourth of the city’s total capacity of around 8 million gallons per day.
The municipality has entered into deals to sell water to entities including the town of Dobson and Carroll County, Virginia, and officials believed more sales should be pursued.
This has led to plans to seek the grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, which assists communities in a 13-state area with economic-development and critical infrastructure projects that advance self-sustaining progress.
City staff members submitted a pre-application to the ARC for the water-marketing grant last July, which led to them being invited to make a full application for the project, which is due by Feb. 25. If approved, the ARC will pay $20,000 of its cost, with Mount Airy responsible for $8,580.
However, members of the city board were not willing to rubber-stamp the proposal when it came to them Thursday night.
Among other things, it will create what has been described as a short, high-quality video highlighting the municipality’s water quality, geographic location and reasons why Mount Airy is highly desirable for water customers to develop and grow businesses.
The marketing campaign also is to include companion promotional materials, branding activities and outreach to suitable industries.
Commissioner Jon Cawley questioned during Thursday night’s meeting how the marketing effort would play out in the effort to “make it known that we have water for sale.” He wondered exactly where the video would be distributed.
“Is it going to go to other municipalities?” Cawley asked.
City Manager Barbara Jones said the idea is to create a video specific to water which would go to prospective businesses and others. “I believe we will be able to use the video to market the water and the city as a whole,” she explained, along with other materials such as brochures.
“I don’t know the specifics that would go into the video yet,” Jones added of the effort still in its early stages. But she said the overall intent would involve highlighting the local water availability and the quality of life in the community through a multi-faceted approach.
“Many cities use social media and videos as marketing tools.”
With economic development largely a city-county function, Commissioner Shirley asked Thursday night why the Surry County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) would not be involved with such an effort.
Brinkley was referring to earlier statements by EDP President Todd Tucker to city officials that Mount Airy is need of buildings or cleared property to adequately promote it to outside industries.
“Why are we not partnering with the county when we don’t have buildings or property available?” Brinkley asked the city manager, while wondering why it is a good thing to market water under those circumstances.
“It’s just another tool to get the word out,” Jones replied.
Brinkley also asked how the water effort would tie in to the city’s plans to add a marketing director to promote Mount Airy, including its water.
“I’d like to wait (on the grant) until we get a marketing director,” she said.
Jones said the marketing director will be hired in the coming months, and that individual’s work definitely will involve the use of the video program among other tools.
The city manager pointed out that this stage of the marketing effort simply involves applying for the grant, and as the proposal develops the commissioners would have the opportunity to reject the plans.
Jones’ explanations seemed to satisfy board members’ concerns, leading to the unanimous vote.
The scope of work that would be funded includes assembling a local development team to facilitate the water-marketing effort under a 15-month completion timeline.
No date was mentioned Thursday night as to when the fate of the grant application will be known.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.