If there were an international award for the worst marketing idea of the year, it would go to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber for the name it has selected for a proposed project in downtown Youngstown.
Google the words “World Trade Center” and here’s what Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, offers: “The World Trade Center (WTC) was a complex of seven buildings in Lower Manhattan in New York City that were destroyed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”
Other entries provide photographs of the two towers being rammed by the commercial jet planes hijacked by Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia.
And yet, in announcing a seemingly creative idea for redeveloping the vacant Wells Building into modern office space with a six-story glass office tower to house small- and medium-sized foreign companies, the chamber went with WTC. The price tag of the project: $9 million.
The name engenders all sorts of comparisons. Calling it the World Trade Center — even with Youngstown as part of the name — would be like the Germans advertising the Volkswagen as the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, one of the most despicable human beings in history. Or, the perpetrators of the genocide in the African nation of Rwanda touting the 800,000 deaths as the ultimate in population control. Or, quite possibly the Chinese adding Tiananmen Square to the list of tourist attractions, along with the Great Wall.
It doesn’t make sense to remind people of acts that have left deep scars in a nation’s psyche.
But that’s what the World Trade Center name does — it reminds Americans of the terrorism that changed this country forever.
The chamber’s chief executive officer, Tom Humphries, has found a creative way of financing the deal: A federal visa program that allows citizens of foreign countries to invest at least $500,000 in a US business project in exchange for getting a residency permit.
Ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America’s homeland, immigration policies and procedures have been closely scrutinized. But under the visa-for-investment program, the barriers are lowered.
Thus, the question about the regional chamber’s Youngstown World Trade Center project: Who would be most inclined to invest in an office building?
The answer can be found in the major capitals around the world, especially New York and London. Oil rich investors from the Middle East have been snapping up prime real estate in just about every continent. The United States, Britain and other European countries are especially attractive because of the message such investment delivers around the Arab world.
And that brings us to Youngstown. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that some Middle Eastern oil family looking for a ticket to America for a son will plunk down the half-million dollars or more — pocket change, really — in exchange for the residency permit.
The irony of such an investment would be palpable. How would the chamber react if a citizen of the country from which 19 of the 21 Sept. 11 hijackers originated wound up being the major financier of the World Trade Center project?
It would be just as heart-wrenching for the people of the Valley if the investor were some Chinese millionaire. After all, this region has experienced first hand the pain that comes with the loss of manufacturing and other good-paying jobs because of American companies leaving for dirt-cheap labor in China.
The flood of Chinese goods in the stores and of manufactured products as a result of the Chinese government’s manipulation of the Yuan have been a major challenge for old industrial areas like the Mahoning Valley.
And yet, a Chinese citizen would get a residency permit by investing a mere $500,000 in the downtown Youngstown project.
What could the chamber’s CEO, Humphries, and his staff have been thinking when the name of the project was selected? Did no one say, “How do we market the World Trade Center?”
It was a mere nine years ago that Americans watched in horror as three commercial jets were used by the Islamic terrorists as weapons of death and destruction. Almost 3,000 people perished.
The Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber should come up with a better name for the project.