RENAMING THE REGION: “Appalachian Highlands” comes out on top in branding study

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)–The results are in on a recent study that sought to find a new regional brand for the Tri-Cities.

WATCH: Renaming the Region Town Hall

In April, Johnson City Commissioners approved a $48 thousand dollar study, split between several localities, to research what that new name should be.

Appalachian Highlands was the most recognized name among survey respondents, according to local leaders.

Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson said they’re still waiting on North Star, a Nashville-based marketing firm, to send a full report and make a final recommendation before leaders finalize a regional brand.

“This whole process is a lot more than a name. I mean you need to call it something but what’s more important is actually supporting each other and working together,” said Johnson City Manager Pete Peterson.

Bob Cantler, the new president and CEO of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, is on board. He said a regional brand is a critical step to attract new business and visitors to the area.

MORE: Population decline is putting the Tri-Cities at a disadvantage for business recruitment, experts say

“We need to do a better job of telling our story about what’s in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia and the beginning of that is what’s our brand,” Cantler said.

Local leaders said about 34 hundred people completed the survey on the “Name Our Region” website.

Then different names, like Mountain Empire, Overmountain and Mountain South were tested among respondents nationwide.

Leaders said Appalachian Highlands came out on top.

“It wasn’t an overwhelming majority of respondents,” Peterson said. “The take away that everybody can appreciate, whether you like the name or you don’t like the name, is the fact that it’s validated. There’s been hard data generated.”

Leaders said Appalachian Highlands was popular among outsiders, especially respondents from Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The name, pushed by the Chambers of Commerce, was initially criticized for the potential stigma associated with Appalachia.

“As a kid–Appalachia–I thought was negative but now I’m understanding that there’s a certain heritage that we have and that we share and I think it’s a positive,” Cantler said. “This is an opportunity for us to update the narrative…What is Appalachia in 2020?”

Another take away from the survey was that locals like the name Tri-Cities.

Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads said the name will stay but it may not be used in regional branding to outsiders.

“I think we’re too early in the process to be able to say if the Tri-Cities name will stay in the regional name,” Eads said.

Peterson said ETSU, Eastman and Ballad Health are already using Appalachian Highlands in their branding.

“It’s basically going to be up to each locality as to how they want to use whatever the regionalism name is,” Eads said. “I don’t feel like that anyone is going to suggest that private businesses change their name just simply to mirror whatever our regional name may be.”

Leaders involved in the regionalism push plan to reconvene in August to discuss next steps.

There is no date set for that meeting at this time.

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