Increasing affordable housing and having a stronger online presence, are among the key steps that the city can take to make Ames a more desirable place for young families to live, according to representatives of ZLR Ignition, a marketing firm from Des Moines.
Last year, the council decided to focus on a specific rebranding campaign for the city that targeted young adults, or millennials, for relocation to Ames and a geographic market was identified by the council as the Ames to Des Moines Interstate 35 corridor. ZLR Ignition was hired by the council to develop that brand and Tuesday night that group came back to present their findings to the council.
Louis Laurent, president of ZLR Ignition, along with other member of his team began the meeting by walking the council members through the research his firm completed during the months since they were hired.
The research conducted for the study included interviews with 18 community leaders, who on average have lived in Ames for more than two decades, and two focus groups with millennials, with and without young families, who currently live within Ames and surrounding communities.
Some of the things that the community leaders said they like about Ames included overall friendliness, good schools and it being a good place to raise a family.
Among the things that the professional members of the community said could change were increasing diversity in the types of industries that open up in Ames, creating an identity outside of Iowa State University and the price of housing in the city.
When the millennials in the community were interviewed, some of the same issues came up when they were asked what was missing from Ames.
“What were the things that they found were lacking, most of them cited the issues of affordable housing and limited professional opportunities,” Linda Kuster, of ZLR Ignition, said.
During the meeting, Councilman Peter Orazem asked if the comments for other college towns would be the same if the marketing team was doing work in a place like Iowa City. The representative of ZLR Ignition said that the main differences are that Iowa City would have areas of the city that included cheaper housing options and that the city has done more to embrace the university as a main staple of the community.
Other ideas came out of a communications audit that included looking at everything from online publications to more print-based resources. When looking at the city’s website there could be some improvements, Laurent said.
“You have many of the things that millennials are looking for but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the website or looking at the materials,” Laurent said.
He added that young people get a lot of information from social media and they expect to be able to find the information they are looking for online.
“They are going to do some research on Ames and see themselves there,” Laurent said.
He suggested adding a more robust community calendar and showing more amenities on the website.
To combat some of the challenges that the marketing team discovered, they suggested making a campaign that made people feel as if they found a community that would accept them and grow along with their families. With that message, the slogan “Live. Grow. Belong.” was suggested by the firm.
The council seemed to have mixed reactions about the slogan. Several members said they had concerns about the campaign which included not enough focus on creating affordable housing options along with the program, what the campaign would actually deliver and if the campaign was worth the money that would be spent on it. Orazem offered one critique about one of the words in the slogan itself.
“One of the things that occurs to me is that I think belong is a really nice word but it’s also a really loaded word so you want to make sure when people see images that they feel like they do belong. So you have to have very inclusive and very diverse images,” Orazem said.
The firm said they would remember that when finalizing the marketing campaign. The council directed staff to come up with a plan that meets the overall budget before making any final decisions. The decision was passed with Councilwoman Gloria Betcher being the only vote against and Councilwoman Amber Corrieri was absent from the meeting due to technical issues with a phone connection. The conversation will be taken up again at a future council meeting.