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Officials seek clever hook to attract business; ‘renaissance’ concept suggested

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Roger Johnson, assistant to Wilmington's city manager for development, has led discussions about how to brand the region since last summer. He is pictured here with the Brand Identity Leadership Team during an update Wednesday morning. Photo by Ben Brown.

Roger Johnson, assistant to Wilmington’s city manager for development, has led discussions about how to brand the region since last summer. He is pictured here with members of the Brand Identity Leadership Team during an update Wednesday morning. Photo by Ben Brown.

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

Alfred White

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.

Recent story: Wilmington company beats statewide competition for innovation award

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.

Related story: To boost tech profile, new incubator space planned for Wilmington

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.

Past stories:

Branding effort gets Wilmington City Council’s limited support

The search for identity: Officials start process to ‘brand’ greater Wilmington

City, county to partner with UNCW, CFCC on joint economic development effort (VIDEO INCLUDED)

Tech employers say jobs are here, but local talent pool needs growth

F. Scott Moody, AuthenTec co-founder, says Wilmington has good support system for startups

Ben Brown is a news reporter at Port City Daily. Reach him at ben.b@hometownwilmington.com or (910) 772-6335(910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia

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Posted by on February 26, 2014. Filed under Local News,New Hanover County,Wilmington. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

7 Responses to Officials seek clever hook to attract business; ‘renaissance’ concept suggested

  1. Lew Kurtzman Reply

    February 26, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Living Without Limits

    Discover Wonderful Wilmington

    Wonderland on the Coast

    Magic Happens Here

    Wilmington on my Mind

  2. George Wilson Reply

    February 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

    How does one encapsulate the spirit of the region into a catchphrase?
    Wilmington downtown has a cosmopolitan, vibrant feel. That fusion of the arts, music venues, shops and cafes and a big city street scene. (But ya still see people you know.)
    Wrightsville Beach; and the Brunswick Beaches are close by. The river and the battleship add their unique charm.
    CFCC and UNCW make it a great college town, attracting some great young minds. Do we have available jobs in manufacturing as well? I don’t know.
    We have a tech base. It seems to be growing. And one can still get a starter or radiator rebuilt!
    Wilington:
    (North Carolina’s) Renaissance City (of the South)?

    Only one problem: Most of our high school grads can’t spell it.

  3. Jason Fields Reply

    February 27, 2014 at 9:43 am

    this is BEYOND absurd. less than less than 3% response rate, mostly middle and upper class whites: Survey conducted on the internet so lower income not included (and that is the larger section of this town)..we are BRANDED by UNC WHITE once again and NO ONE IS REPORTING THIS..but UNC WHITE is once again leading the way! come on folks! And what is this for in the end? What is not working with Cape Fear Region? the Port City? Someone just needs a job and it is pathetic.

  4. Ann Reply

    February 27, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I’ve lived in Wilmington for 40 yrs. I personally think Wilmington has reached a level of saturation population wise in relation to county size that is comfortable. Why is it the powers that be are continually trying to bring in more and more businesses? Why cannot they let us be a *history filled*,*college*, *beach* & *retirement* community and be happy we have all that? I do not want to see our lovely community and natural surroundings become another Research Triangle Park. What is the problem on just improving on what we already have? Wilmington has always, in my mind, had this *identity* crisis – when it shouldn’t have a problem with just being a really nice coastal town that is a wonderful place to live as it is already. Renaissance? Seriously? Don’t think so folks.

  5. Lew Kurtzman Reply

    February 27, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Having lived in ILM for 22 years, I’ve been amazed how much there is to do in a relatively small city. It has parks, lakes, ocean, vibrant downtown, impressive sports and medical facilities and an array of business, both tech-based and retail. This growing area has even more potential as a diverse population adds ethnic restaurants, artwork and entertainment. It truly has “The Most on the Coast.”

  6. Observer Reply

    February 28, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    SOME QUESTIONS:
    Did “Virginia is for Lovers” really work?

    Did the survey (1669)ask the right questions?
    Is “selling” a city/region as simple as using an “emotional hook”?

    Like character, doesn’t a city earn its reputaton?

    Can a concept (Renaissance)create change? How?

    “…we don’t have a name..”, “…so everybody can use that and Wilmington becomes known for something…”, If a broad crossection of people elsewhere were asked how they perceived Wilmington what would they say?

    Did a committee in California decide to brand “Silicon Valley”?

    Does reputation (branding?) come before performance?

    Perhaps a Question-storming is needed.

  7. Lew Kurtzman Reply

    March 1, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I woke up to Wilmington this am. — “Wake Up to Wilmington”

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