Leaders decide 'what is Catawba?'

Catawba leaders are developing strategies to increase revenue and market the town as a place where people want to live, work and spend their money.

Town council members met with town manager Brian Barnett on Tuesday to discuss the town's upcoming budget process for the next fiscal year, which leaders hope will start closing the projected gap between the town's revenues and expenditures.

Barnett advised Mayor Vance Readling and town council members to think of the town as a corporate entity. Businesses market their assets and outline goals to accomplish, so Catawba should do the same, Barnett said.

He suggested leaders give the town a "brand" โ€” a catchy slogan or phrase that people associate with Catawba. The brand is then incorporated on town signs, at the town's website and other prominent places in the area.

Barnett also advised leaders to create a town vision, a mission statement and town goals. Explicitly stating the town's goals and ideals, Barnett said, helps town leaders figure out "what we want us to be."

Council members agreed that recruiting new businesses to Catawba โ€” specifically the downtown area โ€” is a good place to start.

Leaders outlined businesses they want to see located in Catawba, and restaurants were at the top of the list. Barnett suggested other companies, including dry cleaners, a grocery store, a campground site and a retirement community.

Councilman Jeff Isenhour agreed that the town needs businesses like those Barnett suggested.

"People and traffic bring money," Isenhour said. "That's what they do, and that's what you want."

Councilwoman Karen Ester said she thought the town needed an urgent-care facility in the downtown area to care for sick residents, as well as bring traffic into Catawba. Isenhour suggested the possibility of marketing parts of Catawba for high-end residential development.

Barnett also suggested that Catawba Town Council continue to look to technology as a way to market and promote the town and inform its citizens of important information.

The town currently uses CodeRed, which is a telephone alert system to inform residents of disasters or other emergencies. The system costs the town about $780 to use.

But with a difficult budgeting process ahead, leaders are also investigating ways to disseminate public information without spending a lot of money.

That means investigating free social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Catawba has a Facebook page, but no Twitter account.

Isenhour, who is principal at Jacobs Fork Middle School in Newton, said utilizing both Facebook and Twitter helps the school distribute important information.

"When I put something on Facebook ... I might do a very simple blurb to go out on Twitter simultaneously," Isenhour said. "Any time you put something out, put it on Twitter, and do it multiple times."

Barnett noted, however, that many of Catawba's residents are part of the older population.

"Technology might not be their best friend," he said.

To remedy that situation, Barnett wants to publish a quarterly newsletter containing important dates, events and other town information. The newsletter will be available online and in print.

Readling recognized the newsletter's two available forms as a way for the town to save money. He said his church made their newsletter available online, as well as in print, which saved the church money as more people opted to receive the newsletter via the Internet.

"We cut our copy costs by about two-thirds," Readling said.

Barnett is also looking into expanding the town's video capabilities through video websites, such as YouTube. Municipalities can create free government YouTube channels that don't have advertisements.

Barnett recently attended an informational session about how to create and upload videos. He said town officials could upload brief videos detailing the town's upcoming meeting agendas as a new way to keep town citizens informed.