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Morris' marketing logo, agri-tourism initiative discussed

The logo developed by HBH Consultants in conjunction with the Tourism Board is designed to reflect the energy and motion of Morris. The logo, if approved by the Tourism Board and City Council, will be used on all materials designed to market Morris as a tourism and convention destination.

CORRECTION: The original article stated the tourism effort was a venture with the Morris Chamber of Commerce. The correct name is the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce.

MORRIS, Minn. -- Morris' rural location and wealth of agriculture-related activities could be the starting point for bringing tourists to town.

An effort between the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce and Morris City Council to launch a tourism initiative for Morris took a step forward last week when Katrina Pierson, senior associate with HBH Consultants of Sauk Rapids, presented a nearly final version of a tourism communications plan for Morris to a group of stakeholders.

The communications plan, which still needs to be formally approved by the Tourism Board and City Council, includes a logo and tagline for marketing Morris and suggests developing an agriculture-focused tourism initiative for the area.

Morris: It starts here.

The City of Morris hired HBH Consultants last year to develop a communication plan for tourism. Since Pierson presented an early version of the plan to the Tourism Board in October, a small group worked to refine the logo and tagline options and to focus the "brand" for Morris.

Place branding - which can be more difficult than branding a product - can be used to set Morris apart from other rural areas, but also takes time and patience, said Pierson. A place brand is also designed to look at Morris from a tourist's perspective, not the perspective of a local resident.

Key ideas in the Morris brand are that Morris is rural, green, plentiful and open. Morris is a place where rural meets innovation.

The logo - which Pierson called the "gateway to your brand identity" - works with colors, fonts, visual styles, key messages and core beliefs and values to play a part in developing a local brand. The final version of a logo for Morris, which still needs to be formally approved by the Tourism Board and City Council, is designed to reflect the energy and motion of Morris.

Similarly, the tagline - "It starts here." - reflects the idea that big ideas, innovation, food, the prairie, sustainability and fun all have a place in Morris.

Focusing on agri-tourism

When tourists look for a place to visit, they are seeking a unique experience, convenience, affordability, some kind of signature event, beauty and an emotional connection, said Pierson.

The way Morris can attract tourists looking for these experiences, said Pierson, is through agri-tourism - "the act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education, or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation."

Pierson suggested that the Morris tourism initiative focus on two types of local farms - small, sustainable farms and large-scale commercial farming - and their different target markets.

Small, sustainable farms are locations where tourists are looking to spend time as a family or young farmers who are interested in the that type of agriculture. The target area for reaching tourists interested in small farms is regional, within Minnesota and stretching into North and South Dakota.

In contrast, Morris can also appeal to tourists through large-scale commercial farms, emphasizing cutting-edge agricultural research and farms to international visitors. Events like the Wulf Limousine Opportunity Sale and visits to Riverview Dairy or the West Central Research and Outreach Center appeal to a tourism audience well outside the local region.

In both cases, agri-tourism appeals to visitors who want to learn about agriculture and agricultural research and experience what it is like to farm, regardless of the scale.

"More and more, the tourism thrust is people not just wanting to sit and look, but wanting to get their hands into it, wanting to be involved directly, somehow," said Interim Director of the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce, Paul Hendricks. "You think about agri-tourism, and that offers some real opportunities."

Launching the Tourism Team

At the presentation, Hendricks also outlined his vision for how the Tourism Board - an official committee of the City of Morris tasked with monitoring how money from the city's lodging tax is spent - would work with a newly-formed Chamber of Commerce committee, the Tourism Team.

The Tourism Team, which may include members of the Tourism Board, will be a more hands-on group, the "hands and feet" of the tourism initiative, explained Hendricks.

Even if he were to work on tourism full time, Hendricks said, he would not be able to accomplish everything outlined in the plan developed by HBH.

"As a community, we need to come together and figure out how do we start divvying up the load," said Hendricks. The volunteer-based Tourism Team would be involved with training, promoting and recruiting as the tourism initiative develops, as well as helping to set the direction for the project.

"There's a lot of really exciting, active opportunities to be genuinely involved and bringing out end products," said Hendricks.

Beating the skepticism

Based on feedback from the meeting, Pierson said the next priorities for those involved with the tourism initiative will be to catalog the various amenities and activities in town and making the list accessible for Morris residents and tourists.

Meeting attendees also emphasized the importance of battling skepticism in the community that Morris could even be a tourism destination. Many of the early steps may involve a community education and outreach program to make tourism seem feasible to the area.

"Because we live in a rural area, we think of this as 'ho-hum,'" added Hendricks. "But people don't vacation where they live. They go other places. What we're doing is attracting people who are from other places to see something that, to us, is everyday but to them is extraordinary."