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TMCNet:  West St. Paul: City plans to launch phone app

[November 15, 2012]

West St. Paul: City plans to launch phone app

Nov 15, 2012 (Pioneer Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Dave Iago sees West St. Paul's digital engagement as broken.

So he's trying to fix it.

West St. Paul's website is not geared at engaging residents through city services -- an issue many cities face for a variety of reasons, not the least of which includes the use of a basic, mostly limited web site template, said Iago, the owner of Wrecking Ball Marketing.

"After digging around (West St. Paul's) site, I found there was no way to apply for a building permit," he said. "There was no way to license your dog, or schedule a tee time at the city's golf course. No way to do all of these things that would be a tremendous convenience." Iago, who is the nephew of City Council Member Ed Iago, approached city officials with the idea that his Lino Lakes mobile marketing company develop an app for smart phones and tablet devices.

Knowing that most cities face tight budgets and a time-crunched staff, Iago pitched a business model to West St. Paul officials that he figured would be hard for them to turn down. It worked.

Wrecking Ball Marketing has been given the go-ahead by the city council to create the app -- at no charge to the city. The company would also update and maintain the app for free in exchange for an even split of revenue on ads that it sells -- presumably to local businesses.

"One of the priorities for my company was to make this just super easy for the city to do -- and, honestly, I think it's the only reason why it's happening," Iago said. "If I had said, 'I'm going to need a dedicated team that meets once a week and it's going to cost $20,000,' I'm pretty sure they would have thrown me out of the room." Mayor John Zanmiller agrees.

"I told them that that we want to make sure everyone is able to handle it," he said. "And the assurances that I'm getting is that this is going to be manageable. We don't want to be victims of our own success." Iago sees benefits for all involved.

Wrecking Ball Marketing and West St. Paul garner a new income stream. The city and local businesses are given a new opportunity to connect with customers. Residents have access to city services, as well as business promotions not found elsewhere, in the palm of their hands.

Iago envisions launching the app around early February. It would go live in the Google Play marketplace for Android users, iTunes store and Amazon Webstore.

While many school districts have jumped aboard the app craze, surprisingly, Iago said, cities have not. West St. Paul would be among a small number of cities in the United States with an app, and perhaps one of the first in Minnesota, he said.

St. Paul doesn't have an app. Minneapolis' 311 app, meanwhile, is limited to allowing users to report issues like graffiti, damaged street signs, pothole and broken streetlights and parking meters.

"Cities, no offense to them, but I think they are stuck in their ways for lots of valid reasons," he said.

With West St. Paul's app, users will be able to apply for building permits and a dog license; find parks and trails through maps; book or cancel tee times and reservations for the city's golf course and new sports dome; and obtain news and notifications such as upcoming road closures.

"It just streamlines everything," he said. "On top of that, there's so many matters of urgency that will be easier to convey. "And let's face it: Nobody puts their phone down anymore. It's something like 94 percent of people with cell phones are never more than 4 feet from them." Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173. Follow him at twitter.com/NFerraroPiPress.

___ (c)2012 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) Visit the Pioneer Press (St.

Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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