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Chamber hopes to ‘Clear the Air’ about odor issue

Some Perham business leaders have come together to fight back against the flap over the town’s odor issue.

They say the smell coming from the wastewater treatment plant is a temporary – albeit unfortunate – byproduct of the city’s rapid growth in recent years, so it’s a problem that stems from something very positive about the community.

They also say it’s a problem the city has invested $6 million into solving. A major expansion at the treatment plant is expected to be complete by fall, taking care of the odor problem once and for all.

These more positive sides of the story haven’t been getting as much media attention as the negative aspects, they say, so last week, the group of Perham Chamber of Commerce staff members, business owners and key city employees met to come up with a plan of attack on how best to get their message out to the public.

The cooperative effort came shortly after news of the odor was spread beyond the immediate Perham area through stories in the Fargo Forum and WDAY. Those stories were then picked up and spread further by other online media outlets – always with a negative bent.

For example, one online news source, Rick Kupchella’s, headlined its story, “Perham fears being ‘known as the stinkiest city in the U.S.’”

Fearing that Perham could be slapped with such an undesirable label, hurting the town’s reputation and scaring customers away from local businesses, Chamber members decided it was time to put the problem into their own words.

“We’re trying to put a positive spin to this, and we also want to educate people and get out the true information out about what’s going on,” said Dan Schroeder, executive director of the Chamber.

Via a marketing campaign that started last week, the Chamber is taking the approach of, “Let’s Clear the Air” about the issue, running advertisements that “apologize for the temporary condition of our wastewater treatment system” and explain some of the reasoning behind it. The ads also offer a brief explanation of what the city is doing to improve the situation. Additional, more in-depth information will be easily accessible online to those who want it, on the city and Chamber websites.

“The Chamber is putting out information that says that this problem is temporary, it’s being worked on by the city,” explained Schroeder. “The reason behind it is that we’ve grown so fast with our industry and jobs that the infrastructure’s in catch-up mode. We apologize, but at the same time, this is what it is. It’ll get rectified and we’re going to go on with our business.”

Television, radio and newspaper ads will help spread the group’s message both locally and regionally. Business owners will also be encouraged to talk to their employees about how best to handle customers’ complaints.

“I think the key is to say, ‘I’m sorry, there’s a smell, but it’s temporary,’” said Denise Schornack, owner of Nadine’s Ladies Fashions. “We’re just going through this little hiccup, but in the long run it’s going to be better for our town and our area. It’s a small price to pay for the long-term growth of our community.”

“We’re just so blessed to have the jobs and the progressive businesses in this community,” she added. “Sometimes people forget the big picture.”

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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