Project develops platform to promote region

January 15th, 2015

News Coverage:

Project develops platform to promote region

Project develops platform for promotion

Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 11:00 pm | Updated: 6:13 am, Thu Jan 15, 2015.

By Linda Lipp

FORT WAYNE — The results of the “Our Story” marketing study by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership aren’t a roadmap for promoting the economic development of the region so much as they are a wave in the general direction.

“I think what we have is a very strong storytelling platform,” said Scott Ochander, one of the two consultants who conducted 20-some community workshops and analyzed the results for the Regional Partnership.

“We want them to take the platform and write their own road maps around this,” said Tyler Borders, the second consultant on the project. “We’re not saying here’s your rubber stamp. Stamp it. The concept is really to develop the same way of talking about the region.”

More than 800 people participated in workshops last fall or online, tasked with describing the region and its strengths in the same terms that they might describe a person. Ochander and Borders then distilled those descriptions to create a sort of master narrative of the region that can be used as a marketing tool.

One of the most important conclusions they came to was that there is very little difference in the way people in Fort Wayne and Allen County feel and the way residents in small towns and rural areas feel about their home. Perceptions of the region’s personality were consistent from county to county.

Telling ‘Our Story’

Information on the “Our Story” project, along with guidelines for its use, is available on the partnership’s website, neindiana.com.

“There was so much consistency across the 10 counties, and I thought that was neat,” said Courtney Tritch, the partnership’s vice president of marketing. “We all thought the same things but we haven’t been that great at articulating it.”

Similarly, the region knows what it is not and what it doesn’t want to be, the researchers found.

There were five key regional personality traits, or storytelling themes, that came out of the process:

• Time-honored American strength;

• Spirit of collaboration;

• Progressive leadership:

• Uphold and embrace; and

• Big-hearted hospitality.

While not every story line might apply to every situation an economic development organization might face, “these stories all exist thematically in the region,” Ochander said.

“What was exciting to me was that it was not just about who we are but who we want to become,” Tritch added. “It showed the region is ready to go to the next level, take the risk.”

The process identified some of challenges the region faces as well. Northeast Indiana residents think the region needs to be bigger, bolder and more assertive; and that it also must focus more attention on being welcoming and inclusive.

That lack of inclusiveness wasn’t just a matter of race, gender or sexual orientation, but was felt by people who’d lived in the area for years but believed they were still treated differently because they were not natives, Tritch noted.

“It was both frustrating and heartbreaking,” she said.

Many of the participants in the workshops, held in each of the region’s 10 counties, were representatives of nonprofit organizations, businesses or government entities who had a stake in the themes that were developed. But Ochander said the process also attracted members of the general public, including some immigrants and students.

The Regional Partnership revealed the results of the “Our Story” project Wednesday night. Workshops will train economic development leaders to use the “Our Story” themes as they develop their own community marketing messages, but Tritch hopes the impact of the project will go further.

“It’s not just people like me who promote the region, it’s anyone. It’s about how we talk about ourselves.”