GRAND HAVEN — If students from Grand Valley State University are successful, “Bottoms Up Topsoil” and “Enriched Earth” are names that may become well known in the Grand Haven area.
Two groups of GVSU advertising and public relations students formed marketing companies to promote topsoil produced by dredging the Grand Haven harbor as a viable product for local firms.
They made their pitches last Tuesday to members of the chamber of commerce representing Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg, as well as to the Harbor Users Group in Grand Haven.
Tim Penning, an assistant professor of communications at GVSU, said the project is a chance for students to get real-life experience working as part of a company that is responsible for producing a marketing campaign.
The dredged material is mixed with compost to create a clay-rich topsoil that is safe and natural. The students chose Bottoms Up Topsoil and Enriched Earth as the product names.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracts the dredging of the harbor and has stored the dredged material at Verplank Docking Co., which is unable to take on more material without selling the product. Verplank’s Joe Burns identified landscapers, excavators, contractors and plant nurseries as potential users of the product.
The two student-run companies, Grand Rapids Area’s New Imagination Team (GRANIT) and RAPD Communication, focused on community pride and education, the importance of the harbor and the business-to-business aspect of the product.
“It’s vital to tie this product to the community,” said Jaime Sheppard, GRANIT executive director.
Tom O’Bryan, chief of the construction branch of the Corps of Engineers, said he was impressed by the students’ presentation and their ideas, which included billboards, community presentations and the new product names.
“It’s opened my eyes up even more to all the options,” he said.
GRANIT used a billboard with children and animals playing in the topsoil to show it’s safe and used the tagline, “Do you dig our dirt?” RAPD designed a billboard with the slogan “All Dredged Up and Nowhere to Go.”
Annette Allen, general manager of the Grand Haven Board of Light and Power and a member of the Harbor Users Group, said she appreciated the campaigns from the students, which will help the group determine how to market the topsoil.
“It gives us a very clear path that we need to take to move forward with this project,” she said.
Keeping the harbor dredged and open is key for the BLP, which brings in 170,000 tons of coal a year through the harbor, Allen said.
“We don’t have good alternatives as to how to get the coal in here,” she said.
Joy Gaasch, president of the local chamber, said she thought the students presented some usable ideas and would like to have them make their presentation again to members of the community. Though that may not be possible since the majority of the students are graduating seniors, Gaasch did get copies of their material to use while marketing the product.
“They were able to come up with creative solutions for the problem (for) what, in the first place, they thought was going to be a dull and boring project,” she said.
Though some of the students said they were hesitant about the project at first, Heidi Stelwagen, director of RAPD Communications who also works in Grand Haven, said she was interested in helping the community see the benefits of the dredged topsoil.
“The dredging process has to happen anyway, so why not give people a reason to make it something positive instead of something negative,” she said.
Sheppard said she was most surprised by the time that goes into a campaign; the students each logged an average of 20 hours a week working on the project.
“There are a lot of hours on this but it’s worth it,” she said.