RIVER FALLS -- The River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau has dug deep into the "whys" behind the chamber’s motivations, events and role as a resource within the community to establish a new strategic plan just a few months after welcoming a new executive director.
Russ Korpela, who joined as the executive director in September 2019, revealed the 2020-2022 strategic chamber plan Jan. 16 in front of 65 attendees including state Rep. Shannon Zimmerman. Korpela said he wants to “inject energy” and build upon a strong foundation with the strategic plan to avoid complacency.
“The reason, ‘We’ve always done it that way’, is not a valid reason,” Korpela said during his presentation, a thematic message which carried throughout. “We’re going to do our best to be data-driven and committed to our mission… How does it meet what we’re trying to accomplish? If the answer is no, tweak it, and then if the answer is still no, let it retire and move on to the next thing.”
The chamber completed a dense discovery phase to aid the plan development in November and December.
Stakeholder interviews, multiple surveys, financial review, group sessions and research was undertaken during the discovery phase, all of which gave the chamber a closer look at why the chamber does things “that way”, Korpela said.
Korpela highlighted that the chamber found itself to be in good financial health, having six months of operating revenue in reserves.
“A lot of chambers strive for that but rarely get there,” Korpela said.
Korpela said he would like to focus on membership and city tourism to provide income in the upcoming strategic plan rather than also relying heavily on special events which are a volatile revenue source.
The plan, backed by the discovery phase research, comprises four strategic objectives:
Be a leader to ensure the future economic prosperity of River Falls. The chamber is a visible, positive and effective leader on select economic development initiatives and an engaged partner to complement the efforts of other economic development organizations serving River Falls and the region.
Use a growing, diverse and engaged membership to advance our organization and community. A strong chamber is essential to the success of River Falls. The chamber is the strongest with successful, knowledgeable and forward-thinking members who provide employment, commerce and leadership to the community.
Be the recognized leader of tourism development for River Falls. The chamber will be the recognized leader in creating innovative marketing strategies to expand tourism in River Falls, grow local business and complement efforts of partner economic development organizations.
Strengthen and leverage our position of organizational excellence. Member investments in the chamber are strengthened when the community views the organization as one of high standards and best practices. Organizational excellence provides credibility and capacity for the chamber to positively impact and provide leadership to River Falls.
Some changes Korpela said he wants to implement include delivering informational programming sessions online to members, rebuilding the chamber website and reestablishing tourism and special event branding.
Korpela spent time focusing on the latter items.
“Cities like River Falls, we have a whole variety of reasons people come to visit us. It’s a challenge to find that one brand theme that says all that,” Korpela said.
Digital, highly targeted advertising on mobile devices and systems like Roku will be a part of promoting branded tourism.
As for special events, Korpela said Bluegrass Fest and Bacon Bash will be reviewed and rebooted to put “more heads in beds” and keep events relevant.
How River Falls is being represented in River Falls Days was also addressed.
“This will be the most provocative thing I say today. It’s interesting when you’re in other communities and you hear about other festivals and the things have changed I think over the last few years. But when I was in New Richmond, do you know what River Falls Days was known for? The biggest beer party of the year. I have no problems with beer parties, but if that’s the brand of your summer festival that you’re supposed to be celebrating your community, I would say to you you have a problem. It’s fun, but that’s not the brand you want to promote.”
The event will be more family-focused, Korpela added.
Korpela answered questions from the audience about the River Falls Days carnival, which will not be returning.
“It’s less important to kids to have a tilt-a-whirl nowadays,” Korpela said.
The chamber will also have a political policy education program and a candidate forum this fall for state legislative candidates which will be business-oriented.
However, the chamber does not want to act as a political arm telling members who to vote for.
“We won’t do that,” Korpela said. “We’ll have a way to communicate with you about the policies that Madison is considering… Form your own opinion.”