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Economic development leaders explore new branding strategy for Auburn

A new branding initiative from local economic development organizations is meant to help bring businesses and talent to Auburn.

The “place-based” strategy was the focus of this month’s Wednesday Morning Roundtable, a monthly civic forum in Auburn.

Tracy Verrier, executive director of the Cayuga Economic Development Agency; Gwen Webber-McLeod, an Auburn Industrial Development Authority board member and president and CEO of Auburn-based leadership and organizational development consulting firm Gwen Inc.; and Gavin Thomas, a founding partner of Rochester-based marketing business TGW Studios, all took part in the event that was held via videoconference.

Place branding is focused on a community, Verrier said, rather than branding based on organizations and municipalities in that community. She said the agency wants to tell a “whole comprehensive story” about living, working and doing business in Auburn. She added that to an extent, the effort leverages the assets of Cayuga County as a whole, but it is primarily centered on Auburn.

“If you are looking to move to a new location, you’re not looking for the economic development agency, you don’t necessarily want to look at that city’s website. What we’re trying to do is provide information and an experience focused on Auburn as a place,” Verrier said. “So we are looking to provide a narrative and to provide information that is focused on the city and rooted in the city.”

She said the plan was developed over the past year, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. One main targets for this campaign are businesses that may want to do commerce in the city. They also want to entice talent, so people curious about Auburn can find information about what it’s like to be in the area.

TGW, which is working on the branding with AIDA and CEDA, performed an extensive research project to speak one-on-one and in focus groups with local business owners and residents. All of that information, Verrier continued, was used to form “a voice and a narrative that will hopefully reflect the city’s personality and character.”

TGW is now working on a marketing plan and hopes to start launching the branding campaign in the next couple months.

Verrier said TGW is working with the city of Auburn government on a branding and marketing plan for the NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center. She said they are also working with groups such as the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District and city government.

“This brand will be available to them, and as appropriate, our partners can work with us to use this brand to have a constant message across the board,” she said.

Ideally, a goal of the strategy is for Auburn to be “a more recognizable name in the outside world,” but Verrier said that ultimately, their main goal is to have people and business move into the city.

Webber-McLeod, noting that AIDA is funding these efforts, said the Auburn authority also talked about the strategic intent of the plan.

“It led to very interesting conversations about, frankly, something that I think is a challenge that we have sometimes … reframing how we think about economic development in light of what trend data is saying about the types of businesses that are driving the economy,” she said. “We talked a lot about what we want the goals and strategies to be, and I think for the board itself, we were just saying to Tracy ‘it’s really important to us that there be visible indication that the work TGW is doing is really aligned with what we want it to be.’ There needs to be (a balance) between what’s going on in her head and having that be created and produced by someone else.”

Thomas, a founding partner of TGW, said the branding is meant to emphasize that Auburn is a place for people to live, work and “invest their lives” into.

Another element of the project is a brand strategy, including identifying who they want to attract with their new branding plan, such as site selectors, owners and decision-makers for businesses and remote workers. Other parts of the plan include website development and developing a tagline and logo for the city itself.

“One of the things we’re really excited about is being able to show the success that is so unique to a city the size that Auburn is,” he said.

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