Local leaders want to change the name Tri-Cities and they’re willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to find the right replacement.
Johnson City commissioners voted unanimously to authorize an outside marketing firm to conduct a $48 thousand dollar study to research a new regional branding strategy.
“It needs to be right the first time and it doesn’t surprise me that there would be some additional resources needed in order to do that,” said Lori Payne, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Chairman.
Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said that cost will be split between several localities who’re collaborating to put the area on the map in a global economy.
“No one likes change, change is difficult,” said Andy Dietrich, former chair of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce. “We can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.”
He said the only area projected to grow in the next ten years is Washington County, Tennessee. The region as a whole is expected to decline economically, he said.
Dietrich sees regional branding as an opportunity to bring new business and tourism to town.
He said bringing new people in and retaining families from generation to generation by attracting high-paying jobs are both key to countering population decline.
The regional branding study comes after the Chambers of Commerce released a campaign of their own but Dietrich said the name “Appalachian Highlands” faced criticism from city and county leaders.
“I’ve heard people say it’s just not specific enough. Just saying Appalachian Highlands, that’s Georgia to Maine,” said Bristol, Tennessee Mayor Margaret Feierabend.
Payne said some didn’t like it because the word “Appalachia” comes with a historical stigma.
“If we decide at the end of the day to come up with a different name so be it as long as we all come together as one,” said Dietrich.
But as local leaders come together, some are worried they’re being left out of the conversation.
“If you’re going to do regionalism everyone has to be included at the table and I don’t think as Sullivan County commissioners we’ve been brought to the table,” said Sullivan County Commissioner Mark Vance.
“We felt like we had to move very quickly so we’ve not included everyone that needs to be included. We haven’t established the process yet to make sure everyone that needs to be at the table is brought to the table,” said Feierabend.
She said the benefit of hiring professionals to research the new name is that there will be a thorough consultation process.
Leaders hope to have a new branding strategy picked out by June 1st.