Otsego County leads branding effort with 189 other groups

Brand-name identity sought for area 
By Jake Palmateer 2/1/08 Staff Writer for The Daily Star    The Heartland of New York, Upper Susquehanna Valley, Central Leatherstocking, Western Catskills.    These are some of the names used to describe the Chenango-Delaware-Otsego region.    Central Leatherstocking is the official moniker for most of the region under the state’s I Love New York program, launched nearly 31 years ago. Named after James Fenimore Cooper’s series of novels, it is defined by the state as the area enclosed by Interstates 81, 88 and 90 and includes Chenango and Otsego counties. Delaware County is part of the Catskills region under I Love New York.    It may be time for the Chenango-Delaware-Otsego region to brand itself, according to an ad-hoc group of business and arts and cultural organization leaders who met Thursday at Foothills Performing Arts Center in Oneonta.    That may mean adopting a new name, said Garet Livermore, vice president of education at The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown.    “You can brand through a name; you can also brand through images,” Livermore said.    In addition to branding the region, the group is looking at ways to cross-promote the various businesses, attractions and organizations in the area and to pool resources.    Everyone in this area self-identifies with a smaller community, Livermore said.    But he said the group believes it’s time to look at ways to strengthen the collective identity of a region that boasts several museums, two halls of fame, rich arts and cultural programming and popular baseball summer camps.    When someone mentions the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes or the Adirondacks, Livermore said, most people can draw a clear mental picture of what the area means to them.    That doesn’t seem to be the case with this region, he said.    Diane Elliott, executive director of Foothills Performing Center, said if surveys of the name “Central Leatherstocking” were done of people in Buffalo or New York City, only a handful of respondents would identify it with James Fenimore Cooper.    The name “Central Leatherstocking” means nothing to most visitors that come to this region, Livermore said.    The idea of building a stronger brand for the region would benefit the local economy by increasing awareness among potential visitors of what this area has to offer, he said.    This could lead to longer stays by visitors who might otherwise spend their time visiting just one area attraction, Livermore said.    The idea of branding the region goes beyond the tourism industry, said Kevin Price, executive director of CDO Workforce Investment Board.    Area companies, including large manufacturers such as Amphenol in Sidney, have found it difficult to attract talented employees to the region, in part because of a lack of branding. Companies from out-of-state seeking to relocate or expand may also overlook the region for the same reason, he said.    “It really is economic development. It really is work force development,” Price said.    Elliott said the group understands there may be some resistance.    “Change is hard for everybody,” Elliott said.    That’s why it will be important for local communities to have an input in the process as it moves forward, she said.    “This will be a process. It’s got to come from the people,” Elliott said.    A summit of business, cultural and community leaders within the next few months is in the planning phase; the group has identified 189 groups, businesses, institutions and individuals it hopes will attend.    But Elliott said the ad-hoc group is seeking input from anyone who wants to give it.    After the summit, the next step will be to seek seed money to hire a marketing consultant to study branding the region, Elliott said.    “We all feel that now is the time,” Elliott said. “There is a (statewide) focus on the economic situation of upstate New York.”    A unified effort can lead to better promotion of tourism and an improved regional economy, said state Sen. James Seward, who attended the meeting Thursday.    “I think they are on the right track here,” Seward said.    Seward discussed the Senate GOP majority’s Upstate Now program at the meeting. Marketing upstate New York’s recreational, cultural and tourism opportunities is one component of the $3.7 billion economic stimulus plan passed by the Senate last week.    Elliott said the group is also encouraged by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Upstate Chairman of Empire State Development Dan Gundersen, both of whom are interested in revitalizing upstate.    “We do have tremendous allies,” Elliott said.    For more information or to inquire about attending the summit, call Price at (607) 432-4800, ext. 118.    Hmmmmmmm.

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