That emotional hook.
It’s what local officials want to forge in an effort to brand greater Wilmington as the place to be for business and quality living.
The area’s hard assets–its highways, its developable sites, its educational institutions–are top considerations, they concede.
“But at the end of the day, it is going to be about the hook,” said Rhonda Bellamy, a member of the Brand Identity Leadership Team (BILT), which met Wednesday morning to brainstorm concepts and ponder what types of business it should target.
The setup of BILT and the push to create a new brand here–“Virginia is for Lovers” being an example–began in the public eye last summer as officials from New Hanover County and Wilmington’s governments, with counterparts from UNCW, argued the need to stand out as competition between regions for business stiffens.
“We want to make sure that we differentiate ourselves,” said Roger Johnson, assistant to the city manager for development.
Last month, UNCW released the results of a 1,669-participant survey meant to help BILT’s development of a local brand. Its findings included a large value on this area’s quality of life.
“Although beach was mentioned by 65 percent of respondents as a reason for people to move to the area, other top motivators included the mild weather, downtown, and the friendly residents,” stated a summary.
But this effort is not focused on travel-and-tourism growth, Johnson said. It may be a component, and such growth is embraced, but it’s not the core of the brand development.
The question, he said, is: “How are we going to leverage quality of life to get to the businesses we actually want?”
Other questions concerned the types of business sought here as well as how to boost general marketing power (going back to that hook).
One concept that reverberated among BILT members Wednesday was “renaissance.”
The suggestion came from Bill Graham, a Cape Fear Future Commission member who sat in on the BILT discussion Wednesday and said the idea of pitching Wilmington’s renaissance–with technology the field to hoist here–has been swirling in related conversations lately. He noted local attractions of scenery and history–like the Riverwalk downtown–and said the city should vigorously fuse them with new and still-viable technologies to make the impression.
BILT member Kristen Shaheen, general counsel at OpinionLab in Wilmington, was the first to back the word at Wednesday’s meeting.
“If you think of the word ‘renaissance,’ to me it conjures up new beginnings, fresh starts–it’s all of these things. It’s building, it’s education, it’s the quality of life–it’s all of this innovation. So we have the past, and we have the future. And I think renaissance really summed it up. And we can do things with that.
“We can talk about the past meeting the future.”
Others with BILT said that spirit could help Wilmington and the surrounding area win favor as larger markets, like Raleigh and its Research Triangle Park, prevail in business growth.
Alfred White, a Wells Fargo small business banker on BILT, said Wilmington, fueled by its quality of life and renaissance image, could even become a secondary market for tech companies based in Raleigh-Durham, considered one of the country’s hottest innovation locales.
“Renaissance is new and exciting,” added Cedric Dickerson, a BILT member and local State Farm Insurance agent. “‘Do you want to come and be a part of building this new renaissance?’ I don’t know if that’s the word, but whatever it is, it has to have some kind of kick, a buzz to it.”
“It’s interesting. It’s like, ‘Come build it with us,'” posed Ned Glascock, associate director of corporate communications and public affairs for PPD and BILT member.
He didn’t necessarily like the word “renaissance,” though, opining it may come off to young and motivated business types as “something that happened hundreds of years ago, and they may not know that Wilmington needs a renaissance, if in fact we do.”
But Shaheen argued the term embodied modern and future thinking.
“Renaissance sort of, in my mind, encompasses sciences, arts and all of that,” she said. “I think it’s a forward-thinking, and not an archaic, term.”
Wilmington has a standing bid to be North Carolina’s next technology hub, and the location of BILT’s meeting Wednesday–at the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship–plays a part in that.
It’s a business accelerator that offers low-cost workspace and funding connections to energetic idea-people. Among tenants is GO2 LLC, a startup with a product that improves blood flow at the lower extremities and is winning recognitions for innovation.
Castle Branch, a large employer in Wilmington in the field of applicant screening and verification, recently announced it would dedicate a floor of its new, 60,000-square-foot office building off Sir Tyler Drive to tech business incubation.
“I think what holds us back … is our technology culture here in Wilmington. It’s too small. It needs to grow,” Castle Branch CEO Brett Martin said when he announced the project in October.
While the regional branding effort is focused on economic and business development, it would also endeavor to give this area a commonly accepted, overarching name.
The survey UNCW released last month showed a random distribution of accepted handles: Cape Fear, Port City, Greater Wilmington, Hollywood East (the last two ranking as the least accepted among participants surveyed).
“The point is we really don’t have a name,” said Johnson. “Our goal is to change that. That’s one of the things we want. Common language, common nomenclature, so everybody can use that and Wilmington becomes known for–something.
“What that something is, we’re going to decide along the way.”
BILT could have a brand identity this spring and a marketing plan this summer.