Reality show more positive than negative, officials and experts agree
By KEITH ROYSDON
MUNCIE -- Local officials, business owners and even business experts agree that -- so far at least -- there does not appear to be negative "image" repercussions from the Armed & Famous reality show.
One site selection expert even indicated that while the show would have no impact on -- for example -- an automaker deciding to locate a plant here, the show could serve as encouragement for other film and TV productions.
The Armed & Famous
cast and crew came to Muncie around Thanksgiving and left this week, when the reality show -- about celebrities serving as Muncie police officers -- began airing on CBS.
The production company lived in rooms at the recently-closed Roberts Hotel, ate in local restaurants and -- in one notable scene in the first episode, at least -- washed their clothes at a local coin-operated laundry. Businesses saw some increased revenue during their several-week stay.
"It's a crew of 40 or 50 spending money," Mayor Dan Canan said. "They're renting vehicles. They're paying us for the cost of our officers."
But what about the lasting impact of the show to the area's economic fortunes and its image?
"One of my overriding concerns was how we would be portrayed," Canan added. "I think it can have a lot of positive impact on our community."
Canan cited the public relations mileage the city gets when David Letterman talks about Muncie or Ball State University on his talk show.
"Even if he pokes fun, it gets the name out there," Canan said.
Ball State economist Patrick Barkey -- who emphasized he is not a marketing expert -- agreed.
"Speaking just as an economist, if you think about how much money is spent 'branding' a business, about the amount of money Indianapolis spends on its image, [the publicity from the reality show] must be worth something," Barkey said.
"And it's not just the recruitment of business that matters," he added. "It's the recruitment of residents. If you have a chance to take a job transfer to Muncie, do you come? For people considering Ball State, does this make Muncie seem cooler?
"That's an important part of recruitment. If this made Muncie seem more hip, then that's worth something."
Adam Bruns, editor of Georgia-based Site Selection magazine, told The Star Press that big companies won't consider Armed & Famous when thinking about where to locate their business.
"I just don't think it would either be here nor there [in that decision]," Bruns said. "One thing to look at is the fact that a growing part of a lot of states' economic development efforts is the effort to attract film and TV and commercial projects. If anything, [Muncie] makes itself known as a community open to being a production site."
Local officials and business people were fairly positive about the show and the filming experience.
"Most of the interaction I've received reports on has been pretty positive," said Delaware County Prosecutor Mark McKinney, adding his office did have "a real concern" about a Muncie police shotgun reportedly stolen while in the custody of production members.
Tom Steiner, owner of the Blue Bottle coffee shop downtown, had numerous contacts with the show's production crew and actor Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna.
"Jason came in every day he was in town and had lunch with us," Steiner said. "A lot of the behind-the-scenes production people were in town. They were all great.
"I am not concerned about the national image of Muncie based on the show," Steiner added. "I thought they did a really good job of showing that Muncie is a good town and that the police department is professional. I thought it was a pretty positive thing."