Birth of the “stars” of Saline County

Making the most of available resources to counter the effects of COVID-19, Saline Stars was born in April through the Choose Saline County app.

The loyalty program aims to spend up to $670,000 of the $10.532 million allocated to the county by the American Rescue Plan Act, to help both participating local businesses and the people who patronize them.

Choose Saline County is designed to stimulate economic activity in the community.

“It’s like a double whammy to support local businesses,” Saline County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said.

All you need to get started is install the app on your wireless phone and start collecting salt stars. Go to the App Store or Google Play on your phone or tablet and type “Choose Saline County” and link to a debit or credit card.

“Every time you spend money with this card at a local business that has signed up, you earn Saline Stars,” he said. “Every star you earn is worth a dollar and you can redeem those dollars at companies that redeem.”

Companies can participate in two ways, Smith-Hanes said.

“We are pushing businesses to accept star redemptions as payment,” he said. “But there are places where you earn but don’t redeem. It’s a little more complicated for the company to redeem itself. It costs the business nothing, but they have to reprogram their cash registers and train their employees, and we understand that’s a lot to ask of many small businesses in today’s environment.

The app shows participating companies – as of August 1, there were 255 involved; 616 people downloaded the app and 171 of them linked their cards.

“This is a really cool and innovative way for the county to use ARPA dollars to benefit small businesses and residents. It puts money in their pockets by encouraging them to spend locally,” said Renee Duxler, director of economic development and labor at the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce.

To ease the endemic sting early in the pandemic, the county provided grants for stimulus funding through the chamber.

“When we got the funds from ARPA, we decided, ‘Instead of giving free money to people who are not doing well, let’s try to encourage economic activity in the community.’ “Said Smith-Hanes. “We looked around and found this app that a few other cities had used.

Other cities, such as Boston, Massachusetts and Akron, Ohio, have used the app.

“In Akron specifically, this app ended up bringing in nine dollars for every dollar invested by the city. We thought it was a really good comeback,” he said. “It took about six months from when we had this brilliant idea to when we were able to get people to start downloading the app to their phones.”

Choose Saline County was publicly announced at the Chamber Banquet in April and launched on June 7.

“I got 10 stars just for signing up,” said Terry Burger, a retired Salina Farm Bureau agent.

“Traders and the community both need to benefit,” he said.

At first, adoption of Choose Saline County was slow, said Tammy Jarvis, owner of Ad Astra Books & Coffee House, 141 N. Santa Fe, but she hopes it will benefit both businesses and consumers in Saltine.

“It takes time for a program like this to materialize,” she said. “We have been advocating ‘shop local’ for a long time. It’s a fun way to bring it to people’s attention.

The application is open to any consumer who shops in Saline County and any business in the county. It costs nothing and you don’t need to be a chamber member, Smith-Hanes said.

“If you are from McPherson, Dickinson, Ottawa or any county, we encourage you to download the app and use it when shopping in Saline County,” he said. “But the companies have to be from Saline County.”

The app could also benefit businesses and individuals who advertise in participating local media, but as of Aug. 8, Duxler said, none had joined.

“Theoretically, if local media companies were on the app, companies could earn stars,” she said. “It would depend on their (media company’s) billing system and how they accept payment if they could.”

There are many ways Choose Saline County can generate local commerce, benefiting businesses and individuals.

“It’s basically any kind of transaction you can make with a credit (or debit) card,” Smith-Hanes said. “Up to 20% of what you spend, you earn stars. If you pay $20 for a pizza, that’s four stars.

Businesses are sorted by type and location on the app, he said.

“It’s a way to keep that local money local,” Duxler said.

The county has so far committed to participating in Choose Saline County for one year, but has enough money for three years, Smith-Hanes said.

“Theoretically, if it works, we would get enough sales tax money in the county to continue funding it in the future,” he said.

The list of participants is growing.

“I know quite a few people who win the stars,” Duxler said. “There are several companies like Ad Astra. People are buying coffee there. Brown’s Shoe Fit (2150 Planet Avenue) is very high. At Vernon Jewelers (123 N. Santa Fe), people trade stars for rings and other jewelry.

Note: Direct questions regarding Choose Saline County can be directed to Renee Duxler, Director of Economic Development and Workforce at the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce (785) 827-9301, ext. 127.

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