Appalachian Highlands brand the right choice

Editorial Board • Aug 16, 2019 at 12:05 PM

Based on the research, using both Tri-Cities and Appalachian Highlands — sometimes separately and sometimes together has the best chance at success. The local preference for Tri-Cities and the current implementation of the Appalachian Highlands name by the private sector present an effective, inclusive solution since no one name can tell your entire story or promise. This accomplishes the earlier questions of should a name tell you WHERE or WHAT the region is. This layered name, Tri-Cities and the Appalachian Highlands, accomplishes some of both.

That’s the last paragraph on the last page — page 192 to be precise — of the final report from North Star Destination Strategies, the company tasked with identifying a brand position for the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region. Please take a moment, go back, and read it again.

Vocal, local sentiments that wanted to cling to “Tri-Cities” were deservedly heard, loud and clear. Simply from social media commentary, it’s safe to say those folks never thought their opinions would be considered. We’re glad to say they were wrong, and just as glad to see Tri-Cities in the mix.

Side by side with the keep-our-Tri-Cities-moniker crowd stand regionalism advocates looking for a wider identity — an identity that evokes a geographical sense of place. They were searching for a phrase to anchor the message to industry and business looking for a place to start, a place where they could expand, or a place to relocate. Some of those folks (including us) were hoping for a magical phrase from North Star, one that brands the region in a distinctive, previously unimagined way. As you saw from the summary above, Appalachian Highlands rose above the rest as the closest.

The folks at North Star tackled a virtually impossible challenge. The region’s geography represents diversity found in few other places. The demographics — while perhaps not as diverse as we might wish — comprise a wide spectrum. Business and industry run the gamut from the mom-and-pop to international headquarters.

Define that in two, three or four words. Impossible. But Appalachian Highlands, coupled with Tri-Cities (as in “Tri-Cities, the Heart of the Appalachian Highlands”) denotes a real sense of place.

But let’s take it a step further. How about “Southwest Virginia, Northern Gateway to the Appalachian Highlands”? Or “Carter County, Your Southern Gateway to the Appalachian Highlands”?

Appalachian Highlands — in just two powerful words — beautifully brands the region with a sense of determination, place and proud history.

Adding a city or county name or other identifying phrasing retains individuality while planting the entity inside the broader regional footprint.

We are a stronger economic force if we stand as one. It’s true of people, and it’s true of regions. The current push for regional recruiting and growth efforts has gained more momentum in a few short months than prior efforts have gained in years — before they fizzled. By branding the region under an umbrella name, it gives economic efforts a single message point to pitch to the rest of the nation, and the world. Remember, this push and this identity is to present to those outside the region. Tri-Cities alone points to more than 20 destinations across the country. “Tri-Cities, the Heart of the Appalachian Highlands” narrows the designation to a single locale.

We, and others, hope to see Appalachian Highlands adopted by governments, economic development agencies, industries, businesses, colleges, universities and individuals throughout the region as it is marketed to those not from here. The unifying message it sends speaks volumes about the commitment we make to welcome growth.