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Region must focus on future,



Published: Thu, October 19, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The regional agency intends to propose a marketing plan next spring.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Leaders of a regional economic development agency came to Youngstown Thursday as part an effort to craft a new promotional strategy for Northeast Ohio.

"We're gathering all the stories," said Carin Rockind, a Team NEO official. "What are the assets? What are the local communities doing?"

The vice president of marketing and communications for Team NEO met with officials from the Regional Chamber, local tourism bureaus, Butler Institute of American Art and Youngstown Historical Center for Industry and Labor, also known as the steel museum.

Team NEO has made similar visits to other parts of Northeast Ohio and has been conducting forums with business leaders.

The agency plans to propose by next spring a brand identity for the region and marketing plans to promote the region for both business expansions and tourism.

The promotional effort is one of the objectives of Thomas Waltermire, who was named chief executive of Team NEO in March. The agency was created in 2003 by chambers of commerce and development agencies in Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Lorain and the Mahoning Valley.

Waltermire replaced Bob Farley, who had taken a job in private industry. Waltermire resigned as chief executive of Cleveland-based Poly One Corp. a year ago. The plastics compounding and distribution company, which has 3 billion in annual sales, was created in 2000 when The Geon Co. merged with M.A. Hanna Corp.

As research on the marketing effort continues, Team NEO hasn't decided whether the final plan will include a common logo or tagline that would represent the entire area, Waltermire said.

National effort

The effort will be national, and perhaps international, however. Waltermire said the individual chambers haven't had the resources to conduct such a campaign, while other parts of the country have been marketing themselves as a region.

"If we're going to get this area more visibility, we have to put resources behind it," he said.

The funding source is yet to be decided.

Team NEO, which is funded by the chambers and community foundations, has a staff of 13 and a 2.7 million annual budget.

Another part of Waltermire's vision is to develop a regional strategy to promote the industries that drive the area's economy, such as specialty metals.

He also wants Team NEO to be the place that businesses seek out when they want information about moving into the area or expanding.

The last part of his agenda is being a supporter of regionalism of all sorts. For example, Team NEO now is facilitating a discussion in Cuyahoga County about developing a plan for communities to share income tax revenues when companies relocate.

Look ahead

Underlying all of these efforts is the need for residents, business leaders and community officials to stop dwelling on what went wrong in the past, Waltermire said.

"We've got to turn into more of a future-looking region," he said.

It appears like it will be easier to influence people who live elsewhere, Rockind said. Telephone surveys showed that area residents have a high amount of negative opinions about Northeast Ohio, but most people who live outside the area had no opinion.

"We feel good that we're starting from a neutral place," she said.

shilling@vindy.com




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