David A. Knepper
“It feels wonderful to be back home.”
Blacklick Valley school superintendent
Economic revitalization and recovery for the Allegheny region hinges on creating a new marketing strategy, one that discards the traditional stereotypes and clichés that can be characterized as duplicative branding and overstated generalizations.
Rather, this new strategy must create a different brand or image of who and what we are.
This portrayal of the character of our region’s people will enhance economic development opportunities at several levels. This image will become the essential component of a marketing strategy that includes as its goals: Promoting business recruitment and retention, making venture capital and low-interest loans available to business entrepreneurs, continuing to make a stronger commitment to improve quality-of-life concerns, and, perhaps most importantly, encouraging “out of the box” ideas that can move this region forward from those “newcomers” who now call this region their home and whose voices need to be heard.
For all of that to happen, we must play to our strengths and avoid the swirling negativity that keeps bubbling up to the surface – perhaps this “gas” could be capped as an alternative “energy source”!
Furthermore, we must begin to reshape and modify current marketing wisdom to include some of the intangibles or abstractions that often are the deciding factors so often overlooked or underestimated when developing a marketing strategy that might succeed when others have failed to gain traction or have been ill-conceived.
We must continue to build upon all efforts over the long term and to continue to build momentum. And, finally, let’s not criticize too quickly or too harshly those positive thinkers who are attempting to move all of us forward into a new decade of progress and renewal.
Once, by chance, I had the opportunity to sit down with a corporate executive who confided to me that it was his wife, and not necessarily himself alone, who had been the reason for his decision to move his company to our region.
“While I was meeting with local economic-development officials, my wife was conducting her own investigation to determine whether our family and, likewise, those of our company’s employees would want to live in the Johnstown area,” he said.
Her comment that sealed his decision, he recalled, was that “everyone she met made her feel at home.”
Needed infrastructure, such as access roads, water and sewage lines and other tangibles, although important, were not so pivotal, nor as critical, as his wife’s perception of the people she met.
Strange, you may say, that a multimillion deal could hinge on what happens outside the conference room.
Admittedly, I take advantage of people’s congeniality to share with me their thoughts on what appealed to them most when they were considering relocating to the Allegheny region.
Frequently, their criteria in “surfing” for a new place to call home came down to those intangibles – that is, did the region satisfy the following questions: Is the neighborhood safe enough for people to walk, run or bike, and for children to play outdoors? Do people greet each other with a smile and a wave? And do folks take pride in keeping their communities attractive?
Likewise, they were quick to point out that the natural panorama of this region, especially the lofty mountain vistas, clinched the deal as the final determinant – sort of like icing on the cake!
We create in our minds this image whenever one mentions “home.”
It creates a strong and rooted pride that living here is rather special and not easily duplicated elsewhere.
Most folks will tell you that they would not want to live anywhere else. Ask anyone who has had to leave the region and they will tell you that they still consider the region their home.
Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” who “returned” to Kansas: “There’s no place like home.”
Hopefully, all of us can create those opportunities to open wide our doors to welcome those who are looking for a special place that we lovingly and proudly call “our home.”
David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.