What would be your name for our area?

Feb. 16, 2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

Now I know my friends at both The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts will undoubtedly be a little disappointed with me, but I have to be truthful. I think the idea of calling what was once known as “The Pioneer Valley” – Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties – “West Mass” just doesn’t work for me.

The idea is that we need to rebrand our region in order to attract additional tourism and residents. I agree, but to spend a reported $80,000 at a marketing firm in Oklahoma for this result seems rather insulting.

Why did this money go out of the state, much less out of the region? Michelle Goldberg of The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau told me, “We solicited agencies to respond to the Request for Proposals (RFP) and had 60 agencies from in-market and out-of-market request our RFP. We received 23 proposals, interviewed seven agencies and selected Cubic because they best met the criteria of the RFP – they demonstrated significant experience developing comprehensive brands for tourism and economic development agencies. We tried to engage a local agency partner to work collectively with Cubic but were unable to solidify an agreement. Now that the brand is finalized, we will work locally to implement the brand. We’re off to a good start already. We've used local talent to design our web portal, design elements, roll-out video mash-up and there will be plenty of other opportunities as we continue the roll-out.”

According to the press release I received – I couldn’t attend the kick-off due to my schedule – “The West Mass brand was developed under the direction of Cubic Creative, a branding agency based in Tulsa, through an exhaustive process that included five focus groups with more than 75 participants from the local business community, private interviews with local officials and site selectors, visits to attractions and businesses throughout the region, a public survey with over 300 responses and the review of dozens of in-depth research documents.”

In the same release, Western MA EDC President & CEO Rick Sullivan said, “Many of our members and major employers in the region are experiencing recruitment difficulties. Although they are engaged in workforce development programs, it isn’t enough to fill the positions currently available and the projected additional jobs that are becoming available in the near future. Linking these job opportunities to the excellent quality of life available in this region is a win-win for economic development and tourism.”

So “West Mass” will be the cornerstone of a plan to emphasize all that is attractive for those visiting and living here? What’s the plan, how will it be funded and in what region will it be seen?

Here is another question: for a new slogan to work will all of the businesses involved in either tourism or recruiting new employees incorporate “West Mass” into its advertising and marketing? Will the tenants of Union Station in Springfield use “West Mass” as a means to identify the destination? Will Six Flags, Yankee Candle or MGM Springfield weave it into its marketing? How about The Big E and the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Is the goal to make the area sound “hip” to Millennials? Does “West Mass” do that?

There is no bigger Western Massachusetts patriot than me. I’m the guy who thinks we should be our own state. Charge for the water from the Quabbin! Out of state rates for eastern Massachusetts college students! I get tired of encountering state officials who seems to have next to no practical knowledge of our area.

Do I want our part of the state to thrive? Yes, yes, yes. Look at our advantages of location – hour and half to Boston, three hours to New York City, hour to Vermont. Look at our higher education resources. Look at our tourism attractions. Consider how we are a hub for precision manufacturing and how we were picked for the rail car company that will hopefully spur additional manufacturing.

We’ve got the features of cities, small towns and the country all within minutes of one another giving people a wide variety of lifestyle choices.

This is simply a great place to live and work.

I hope that “West Mass” will do what folks hope it will do. By the way, not that anyone asked for my opinion, but I think “The 413” would have been a better designation.

Send me your reactions to news@thereminder.com. This column does not reflect the views of the publishers or the advertisers of Reminder Publications.

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