WHEN WORD bubbled up late last year that area corporate and business leaders planned to give regional branding another go, it brought forth a response that is as close to unanimous as they are likely to receive in this grand undertaking.
Here we go again.
Depending on the individual breathing those words, it might be accompanied with an eye roll or snort or any other of a number of dismissive gestures or expressions to reflect that trying to put one name on land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to well up the Peninsula and along the North Carolina border and up to the Middle Peninsula is, well, problematic.
Hampton Roads or the Tidewater or Coastal Virginia or the 757 or whatever one calls it today is difficult to define. And, in fact, the parameters of that definition, the specific landmass one intends to label, poses the first of many problems in any branding effort.
Still, those well versed in fields such as economic development and marketing contend the area will continue to struggle compared to other similarly-sized regions absent an ability to clearly express where we are — and who we are — to the nation and the wider world.
While this corner of the commonwealth must continue working to developing home-grown business and cultivating a climate welcoming to entrepreneurism, and should tend to the core sectors of the local economy (military/defense, tourism and the Port of Virginia), attracting new industry and investment to the area requires a defined identity.
Think “Research Triangle” or “Dallas-Fort Forth” or “Silicon Valley.” Concise and clear and communicative. They convey a sense of place that encompass a larger area and a substantial population. What’s more, they are easily identifiable to people who dwell well beyond their location.
Now ask a business executive in Seattle or a tech CEO in San Francisco or a start-up financier in Austin where “Hampton Roads” or “the Tidewater” is located. Request her or him to point it out on a map, and it will be immediately apparent the size and scope of the challenge before us.
It is a daunting obstacle to be sure, but not an insurmountable one. Nor is it a pointless exercise, despite what detractors are sure to claim.
The return to the issue emerged publicly in December, when Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Stephens announced that his organization would take the lead on a renaming effort in the interest in helping its membership in a global marketplace.
“We want to lead the collaborative efforts to find solutions to issues impacting the business community and further enhance the conditions which allow businesses — you all — to be a success,” Stephens said at the chamber’s annual meeting on Dec. 6. “The Hampton Roads Chamber is going to take on the role of leading the collaborative efforts to rebrand this region from Hampton Roads to something that is more effective to our business community especially our hospitality and tourism industry.”
He was not the first to broach the idea, of course. Many of the organizations which see as their mission the promotion of the region have struggled with the notion that few outside the area could immediately locate “Hampton Roads” on a map.
But at a panel discussion a few days later, Stephens appeared to have the support of other critical regional advocates for launching a formal process to identify and adopt a name, including Jim Spore, president and CEO of Reinvent Hampton Roads and the former city manager of Virginia Beach, and Deborah DiCroce, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.
Those partnerships are critical, as is the backing of municipal governments, business executives and other regional non-profits. If such an effort is to succeed, it must be done with the enthusiastic assent of all involved — including members of the public.
That may be the toughest sell of all, considering that residents are likely to scoff at any change. For them, this is “Hampton Roads” or “the Tidewater” or “the 757” and nothing is going to change that.
So what is needed from them is that they come to the table with an open mind rather than an immovable belief in the righteousness of their position, be they backers of “Hampton Roads,” “the Tidewater,” “Coastal Virginia” or any of the other sundry options before us.
Understand that this effort is intended to benefit the whole of the region, to better sell the many benefits of life here to would-be employers and investors, and to promote this as an attractive place to live, work and visit.
Because it is surely all of those things. We are quite fortunate to call this place our home and it behooves us to frame it in the best possible light, with a common moniker that is readily understood by those farther afield.
We must not let this effort succumb to the petty squabbles that have scuttled other attempts at regional partnership and cooperation. It’s critical to not simply recognize that when one municipality thrives, others reap the benefits, and misfortune for one causes all to suffer. We must fully embrace it.
Doubtless there will be some if not many who feel this is wasted energy, and that each community would be content to simply focus on its best interests. And there will be concerns that the larger cities — Virginia Beach and Norfolk — will hold sway over the process to the detriment of the Peninsula.
Set those aside. Enter into this will optimism and the firm belief that this is a task worth doing, and doing right. The process itself will be informative and, who knows, perhaps this is the time — the moment — when regional cooperation and partnership proves ripe for the picking.
Understand that this effort is intended to benefit the whole of the region, to better sell the many benefits of life here to would-be employers and investors.
Source: The Virginian-Pilot Digital Edition: Welcome regional brand discussions with open minds