Branding efforts help attract, retain business

Communities are trying to promote their unique qualities through what’s become known as “branding.”

The branding is meant to attract attention of businesses looking for a place to locate, thus increasing the tax base of the community.

Suburbs often are characterized as “burbs” with little identity, and lumped in as bedroom communities.

Hoping for more identity, some cities such as Burnsville and Maple Grove have actually built downtowns.

Community celebrations, such as Braham’s Homemade Pie Day, Isanti’s Rodeo Days and Anoka’s Halloween observance help establish identity.

There are many other well-known brands including Caledonia as the “Wild Turkey Capital,” Anoka as the “Halloween Capital,” St. Paul as the “Capitol City,” Minneapolis as “The City of Lakes,” Little Falls as the city “Where the Mississippi Pauses, Discovery  Begins.”

Lakeville prides itself as the “Southern Gateway to the Twins Cities,” Apple Valley as “Plant, Grow, Prosper,” Cambridge as “Minnesota’s Opportunity Community” and  Isanti as “A Community for Generations.”

Forest Lake, thanks to its American Legion post, has billed itself as the “Fourth of July Capital of Minnesota” for nearly 90 years.

Elk River, which is known as “Energy City,” has an Economic Development Authority (EDA) that hired a consultant to develop a branding program.

Through research, the company, ChandlerThinks, found only 13 percent outside the city knew much about Elk River, except as a city to drive through.

On the other hand, they found satisfied residents who liked the outdoors where two rivers, the Mississippi and the Elk, come together, the parks, the downtown and the location near the Twin Cities.

They came up with the theme: “Elk River — Powered by Nature,” but quickly acknowledged the “Energy City” component and said the theme also could fit “Elk River — Energized by Nature.”

To its credit, the company had many good suggestions on how the theme could be incorporated, particularly involving the entire community and its businesses in spreading the Elk River gospel.

They stressed the need to improve the city’s website, noting that 85 percent of businesses looking to locate or re-locate look at Internet sites.

Forest Lake, backed by a similar study with its EDA, is in the midst of a like process that will hopefully produce a new “brand” for the Washington County community.

Some question the need for branding, particularly in a natural region like northern Dakota County, where people live in one close-by city, work in another and worship in another. They say that it’s better to forget competing for industries with neighboring cities and be satisfied to locate in the region a business that will provide employment no matter where people live.

Steve Chandler told the Elk River EDA that a community’s reputation is “defined by its government, its businesses, its organizations and its residents — or, it will be defined by others.”

Having a systematic approach to spreading the right message to targeted audiences is one way to attract and keep businesses and build community. — Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers