Why local leaders are looking to Upstate South Carolina as a regional branding success story

Local leaders point to Upstate South Carolina’s regional rebranding as a success story they hope to replicate to bolster economic activity and tourism in the Tri-Cities. 

In Greenville, SC, the heart of the Upstate region, GDP grew by 26 percent from 2010 to 2017, according to U.S. Census Data. 

Meanwhile, Kingsport’s declined by 2 percent and Johnson City’s grew by 12 percent. 

News Channel 11 traveled to Greenville, SC to ask leaders there how regional branding has played a role in their growth. 

Whether you know it as Upstate or UpCountry South Carolina, this cluster of counties connecting Charlotte and Atlanta has put itself on the map by branding themselves as one.

That’s according to Aimee Redick, director of global engagement for the Upstate SC Alliance, a regional organization focused on business recruitment. 

SEE ALSO: Tri-Cities leaders commit to collaborate, rather than compete, on economic development

“Often times they’re not going to know an individual city or an individual county, though when you come together and you pool your assets, then you start making people’s list and they start understanding the power of a region,” said Redick. 

In the Tri-Cities, a regional branding push is just beginning to counter job loss and population decline.

Most people News Channel 11 surveyed in downtown Greenville, SC had never heard of the Tri-Cities, a two-hour drive away. Those who had heard of it failed to locate it on a map. 

“So I think it’s important when you look at how you brand yourself is to make sure it makes sense to the outside world, and, as a whole, highlight what your advantages are, what makes you unique,” said Redick. 

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

The success of the Upstate’s branding suggests there’s hope for the Tri-Cities. 

Redick said they’re expecting another 100 thousand job openings over a 12 month period. 

Redick said they’ve found people are willing to move for those job opportunities. In fact, she said 30 new people are moving to the Upstate region every day. 

That’s why their new regional branding focus through their “Move Up” campaign has been attracting young professionals, not just businesses. “So really we’ve built our campaign of bringing and attracting talent in ultimately to fill the jobs that are here and to provide additional fuel for companies to be able to continue to grow,” said Redick. 

Branding several counties under one name has also helped Upcountry South Carolina, a regional tourism agency, bring in new visitors. 

“It has to be more than just a name, it has to be an experience,” said Joe Mullinax, marketing director for Upcountry South Carolina. 

In a state known by outsiders for its oceanfront, Mullinax said it’s been a challenge to draw people to their corner. 

“It’s been a challenge since the colonial days,” said Mullinax. “It’s not going to happen in a week, it’s not going to happen in a month, it’s not going to happen in a year. It’s a multi-year campaign.” 

Mullinax said what sells for them is nature and historical-based tourism. 

Mullinax said the goal of their organization is to share their common identity so that even their largely rural region can stand out on the world stage. 

He said smaller counties in the area benefit from collaborating with their regional organization. “If you can get tourists to come there because they’re such a unique place and there’s somebody out there, like us, telling the story of how unique they are then we can drive traffic to them and help ring their cash registers. That does wonders for them,” said Mullinax. 

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