Greatest Small City In America?This is an op-ed by Business New Haven and New Haven magazine publisher Mitchell Young on promoting New Haven for visitors, students, potential employees and businesses.
It’s the time of year when we think of promoting to visitors and in a few months we’ll start to realize that another year is around the corner and New Haven and the region still isn’t promoting the business environment.
New Haven’s new mayor Toni Harp early in taking office promised a “bigger brand” for New Haven. Now six months into a two-year term, “We’ve got nothing new to say” might as well be the city’s new slogan.
Readers of this newspaper may recall that in January we ran a forum with what we call some of New Haven’s “Dreamers and Doers” on branding New Haven. That group surfaced something that has popped up on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like: “New Haven: Greatest Small City In America.”
First off explain what you mean about ‘New Haven: Greatest Small City in America’ on social media.
I started to notice on Facebook, this #GSCIA hashtag and phrase pointing to New Haven news and events; and it was meaning Greatest Small City In America.
There’s an “I Love New Haven” tag too, and since Business New Haven did an “I Love New Haven” cover feature about ten years ago (with two people holding pennants: one reading “I Love New Haven” and the other “I Hate It”), I started paying attention to social media to see if things maybe had changed.
So who was pushing these ideas?
I’m not a social media expert, but it looked like a lot of a certain kind of person.
Then I bumped into Bruce Ditman, the marketing director for Marcum, a national accounting firm at the Connecticut Technology Council’s Tech Top 40 event last fall, which Marcum sponsors.
We talked about New Haven’s lack of self-promotion, his support of the “Greatest Small City In America” idea and social media promotion.
Bruce is not your ordinary marketing guy. Marcum jumped in to sponsor the Tech Top 40 as soon as Deloitte withdrew its support of the Fast Fifty that the technology council was running.
And then there was his and Marcum’s decision a few years ago to start an LGBT practice in their firm.
A national accounting firm seeing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community as an opportunity and having the guts to act on it early, to me says a lot.
When you’re in regional business media you don’t see much of that type of risk taking.
New Haven’s been growing, doing better. What’s the big deal about a slogan or a ‘big brand’ anyway?
I’ve been involved in promoting New Haven since 1975 when I was the man on the street starting up the New Haven Advocate. That’s thirty-nine years ago.
In all that time New Haven has never put forward its own positive image in a meaningful way.
When Michael Bingham and I started Business New Haven twenty-one years, ago we had business people warning us if we wanted to succeed “don’t use the name New Haven in your publication masthead.”
We in fact had a second name choice and prototype CONNTACT, which we use now on the web.
One of the things Bruce Ditman said to me, was "if you don’t define who you are other people will”, and that is what continues to happen to New Haven.
While much more being said today is positive, New Haven still didn’t make the top 100 places to live by the website Livability, which ironically just said the city was the number one “foodie” city in the country.
But you did name the publication Business New Haven?
Yes we did. Michael as I recall had a very clear view, “This is where we are, this is who we’ll be.”
We decided our job was to help fix the brand.
And in 2007, we again chose New Haven as our brand when we started New Haven magazine. Everything we’ve done, and what for me was my personal fortune has been tied to this name. And frankly, it ‘s still not an easy sell.
Now seeing the public turn the corner with #GSCIA on its own, organically – is something we should all support.
When you say something like the Greatest Small City In America, you invite a negative response, there are a lot disbelievers out there?
Fear is always in the way of change. We aren’t the folks to give in to that or we wouldn’t have started different publications during the worst two economic times of our generations, 1993 and 2007.
On the first cover of Business New Haven were pictured five bankers in front of the Grove Street Cemetery entrance, where the phrase “The Dead Shall Rise Again” is engraved atop the gateway.
It’s also important to separate the city and its life from political thinking and government. The mayor and folks in government run municipal government and they effect things, but they don’t run the city.
New Haven has a marketing arm, Market New Haven.
Yes, and they’ve done a good job but in a very limited arena: shopping and restaurants, mostly. They are not really promoting the city overall or creating a brand, and for the New Haven region, promotion is non-existent.
I don’t believe people from around the world come to the US to live in Jersey City and start their businesses or lives over there. They want to be in greater New Haven, they just don’t know it, nor how welcoming it can be.
What makes a great slogan?
I don’t know, but I can see what is bad and what is good.
In this case the zeitgeist has already come up with it and it addresses decades of misperception and inadequacy about New Haven.
Just look at these slogans in use today in southern New England – with promotion dollars and effort behind them:
“It’s Happening Here” (Torrington)
“Hartford Has It“
“Make It Happen Here!” (New Haven)
“It’s All Here” (Massachusetts)
and MERIDEN, CT just started promoting Make It Here In Our Meriden
These seem to derive from the baby boomer slogan, “Hey Man, This Is Where It’s At.”
The greybeard boomers that run things apparently love that expression and see much more in “it” than they should. It must be the latent impact of LSD.
For Torrington, which was home to the Ball Bearing industry, couldn’t it be “City On A Roll?”
For Hartford, with its huge workforce, powerful business community and thousands of hard working immigrants, couldn’t that be “The City That Works?”
Just something, anything that really speaks to their communities, instead of to nothing.
Hasn’t New Haven been growing and doing great compared to the rest of Connecticut?
Boomers are the folks in charge in Connecticut and they don’t have a clue about the importance of “place identity” that the folks under forty do.
Another boomer slogan was “Don’t trust anyone over forty,” now the boomer slogan is “Don’t trust anyone UNDER forty.”
They want to change your schools, your taxis, your work place, your media. So the greybeards (myself included), continue to resist even as we wonder why young people won’t stay. This has been a story in Connecticut, for fifteen years of how to get young people to stay. The truth is – we’re kicking them out.
They want kayaking, we make it hard. They want music clubs, we say, what kind?
But ‘place identity’?
The boomers told their kids to play well with others, and unlike the boomers who lived by “Do Your Own Thing”, they are a social generation and place identity matters to all of them. They don’t want to tell people they live in New Haven and have friends and family say or think something bad.
They need to be in a place that has respect and is happening and is acknowledged. Their parents don’t need that.
The boomers in charge can hire all the consultants they want and read all the books about “making places”, but they don’t get how much it matters to “Dreamers and Doers” where they want to be and have to be.
Where’s the proof?
An hour away. I grew up in Brooklyn and I hate Boston (or a least the Sox), but for the past ten years I believed New York didn’t own the future because it didn’t have the technology chops of Boston, or Bangalore, or San Francisco, or the infrastructure to get it and would be a loser twenty years down the road.
Now seven thousand tech companies are there.
Brooklyn became the spot people started moving to. There are still drugs and violence and everything else bad that drove me out of Brooklyn, but thousands of young people are moving there and building businesses because it became the place they want to be.
Brooklyn is a golden word in “place identity.”
As we used to say in Brooklyn, “Go figure.”
It still doesn’t tell me ‘why #GSCIA,’ and what should happen next?
I’ve never cared much about who was in city hall. My world view is the culture rules, the politicians follow.
But Matt Nemerson (the city’s head of economic development) has long been a friend to our publications and to us. I want him to succeed and professionally we need a stronger business environment in the region, and today that starts with New Haven and a brand that doesn’t apologize.
I said to Matt “if social media hands you a slogan created by the Dreamers and Doers, it’s a gift. Make it your own.”
And politically speaking, nearly half the people who voted for mayor voted for the other guy, someone with pretty much no experience. Its not like we have a united city.
Why isn’t #GSCIA being adopted more?
It is being adopted and that will continue to grow, but I’d like to see it move faster and be out in traditional media and in institutional promotion.
Peter Salovey, the new president of Yale, is a long-time resident and true lover of New Haven. He addressed six hundred business people at the Chamber of Commerce this spring and ended his speech saying that the 376th anniversary of New Haven was coming on April 24th and we should all “post it, tweet it and tell your friends: ‘New Haven: Greatest Small City in America!’”
Michael Morand, Deputy Communications Director for Yale, has been a big proponent of #GSCIA on social media, on Facebook he’s got a lot of friends. Morand lobbied Anne Worcester at the chamber event (see page 3) to incorporate it into Market New Haven’s efforts as well.
I suggested to Matt that the city should take up the cause and post a banner on city hall in time for the Arts & Ideas Festival for the thousands of people who would be right in front of it, and that could be the brand game changer for New Haven!
Matt seemed to get it – but apparently not everybody in city hall had the courage to be that positive.
The mayor herself had tweeted out “Greatest Small City in America.”
But in bureaucracy whoever raises fear usually wins the argument, so no banner – yet.
Maybe one of the muni-newbies put the kibosh on it.
But really, is New Haven the Greatest Small City in America?
Let’s go back a little over twenty years. Yale had almost no money in the bank. They might not admit it but some of the best faculty were heading elsewhere. They couldn’t keep the existing buildings maintained, never mind build new ones, and the city was crumbling around them. Then Rick Levin came in, and today it’s safe to say that Yale is the leading contender to be the premier university of the world for the next two generations at least.
They have money, investments in life sciences, engineering, business, amazing new buildings and schools, an expanding undergraduate body, an international student base, a financial admission policy that assures anyone capable can afford to attend.
Quinnipiac, the University of New Haven, Albertus and Southern, Gateway, have likewise been transformed.
Day in and day out, these institutions will bring thousands of young people and professionals to New Haven and the city is attracting young people from throughout Connecticut to live as well.
I recently interviewed Barry Nalebuff, Yale School of Management professor and founder of Honest Tea, he was one of those professors that was recruited twenty or so years ago to replace some of those leaving.
To paraphrase, he said “the people who are attracted to New Haven come because it is a place where they can make a difference.”
In greater New Haven, boomers and young people, citizens from all ethnic groups and demographics take problems into their own hands and try to fix them.
Ditman said, “We’re not saying this is the Greatest Small Utopia in America.”
What is making New Haven the Greatest Small City in America is not the art, the pizza, the start-ups or the universities. It is the nature of the people here, what they care about and what they are willing to do to make New Haven and the region better, and if they start calling themselves the greatest, that’s good enough for me.
Hopefully Matt and Mayor Harp, Bruce Alexander, Andy Wolf, Anne Worcester and the rest of you will see that is what New Haven has to sell, and IT is great!