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Interstate plays role in branding region

For most people in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Interstate 81 is a convenient way to drive around the region or beyond. Increasingly, the highway has become the defining feature of the region for real estate professionals, who have dubbed Northeastern Pen

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ELLEN O'CONNELL / TIMES-SHAMROCK Traffic travels along Interstate 81 near HazletonThe Wilkes-Barre/Scranton/Hazleton region has had several labels in the past, but one that is getting attention is named after the interstate, 'I-81 Corridor.' $(function() { $('a.73679533_gallery_1_1425842').lightBox({ imageLoading: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-ico-loading.gif', imageBtnClose: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-btn-close.gif', imageBtnPrev: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-btn-prev.gif', imageBtnNext: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-btn-next.gif', imageBlank: '/img/lightbox/lightbox-blank.gif', boolShowSell: true, txtSellText: 'Click here to buy this photo', txtAffiliate: 'citizensvoice', txtDomain: '', imageSell: ' }); }); For most people in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Interstate 81 is a convenient way to drive around the region or beyond. Increasingly, the highway has become the defining feature of the region for real estate professionals, who have dubbed Northeastern Pennsylvania by the terse, inelegant moniker "I-81 Corridor." I-81 Corridor has popped up in the pastBut about four or five years ago, local economic development officials first started hearing it in conversations with corporate real estate professionals helping find a suitable home for a business. Soon Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton began to be referred to the area as the I-81 Corridor in market reports by big commercial real estate firms like Cushman & WakefieldAfter many years and many attempts to develop and promote a regional brand both for tourism and economic development - one finally caught on, but not any of the ones promoted from within. As a brand, "Northeastern Pennsylvania" was bland and vagueIn the 1980s the Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania came up with handle "Pocono Northeast." In the late 1990s, an outside consulting firm floated the term "The Great Valley" to unite the region from Hazleton to Carbondale"Penn's Northeast" was a personal way to refer to this part of the state, prompted by the eponymous economic development marketing firmAfter several parallel efforts, some questions remainDoes the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Poconos areas even belong lumped in with each other? What about the Endless Mountains region, the once-overlooked, now hotbed of economic activity with natural gas drilling and pipeline and power plant construction? As someone may say of a dramatic relationship: It's complicated. There are challenges to branding the regionUnlike major metropolitan areas, Northeastern Pennsylvania, however delineated, doesn't have a single dominant cityRather it's a collection of cities, borough and townships, noted Phil Condron, head of a local creative agency and former interim chief of the Greater Scranton Chamber of CommerceSo ideas modeled after Chicagoland and Hotlanta, are not an option, Condron said. After you get past Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, there is the question of what else to includeThe broader region has conflicting identitiesThe Poconos as a resort area; the Endless Mountains as rural area, now as center for the natural gas activity; and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a post-industrial population center. The metropolitan statistical area is not reliable because it has been so fluid, subject to change after every censusScranton and Wilkes-Barre were separate metro areas until 1970s, then Monroe was addedThe metro was redrawn to include Columbia and Wyoming countiesThen Monroe was dropped in the 1990s, followed by Columbia. As economic development officials throughout the region began considering working together, the relationship with the Poconos has been on-again-off again. In the late 1970s, when the sparsely populated resort area began to see the early incursion of permanent residents, the Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania took notice and concluded the population would continue to increase and move west toward Lackawanna and Luzerne countiesThe group came up with a branding campaign "Northeast Pennsylvania - A Place to Grow." Howard Grossman, who led the organization at the time, said the goal was to have, in as few words as possible, a brand that communicated a region emerging from the legacy of coal, and growing a new economy while providing an environment to raise a family and foster a businessThe Poconos had name recognition and Northeastern Pennsylvania had the infrastructure and laborThe agency encouraged local economic development groups to use the logo and many didAfter six years, the funding ran out, Grossman said, but he's happy to see the term has continued to be used by some groups. The Poconos had a high-profile reputation, but as the Honeymoon CapitalThe heart-shaped tubs didn't mesh with the industrial ambitions of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton, Condron said"The Scranton and Wilkes-Barre areas wanted to brand themselves as a workplace, and Monroe's image as a vacation destination didn't seem to fit," Condron said"Sometimes, we have a reluctance to connect." Regional tourism efforts are a bit more creativeStill, a study in the 1960s floated the term "Playground of the Megalopolis." Ideas improved and years later, a regional tourism alliance promoted the sylvan-sounding "The Great Northeast Territory," and more recently an 11-county grouping known as "Upstate PA," playing on notoriety of Upstate New YorkTourism lends itself to a broader region since the number of attractions provides an additional draw. Since the days of Pocono Northeast, that region developed its own industrial infrastructureIn the new era of regional cooperation, Monroe County, and often its neighbors, are at the table, participating in efforts such as Penn's Northeast, Wall Street West, and the new Biosciences Initiative. For Northeastern Pennsylvania, coming up with a branding turned out to be like giving yourself a nicknameIt doesn't stick unless someone else gives it to you. Still, I-81 Corridor works for most to the extent it catches attention of corporate real estate professionals. Someone of limited geographical knowledge may scratch their heads if they hear Penn's Northeast, Pocono Northeast, or Great NortheastBut I-81 Corridor resonates with anyone who has driven or reviewed a map of the mid-Atlantic states, said James Cummings, of Mericle Commercial Real Estate and former executive director of Penn's NortheastHe's seen people outside the region struggle to define itOutside commercial real estate professional call South Central Pennsylvania "South Central Pennsylvania." They call the greater Allentown area "The Lehigh Valley." "They didn't call us Northeast Pennsylvania, or weren't sure where it began or what it included," he said"Now, not only do they know I-81 Corridor, but they know their clients will expect them to pay attention to it - and usWe are now in the game more than before." Condron remembers when a drive down the I-81 would feature the culm fire at the former Marvine colliery and one of the nation's largest auto salvage yardsNow, one sees a ski resort, a modern office park, a sports stadium and shopping districtsScranton has new found recognition with NBC sitcom "The Office" and national political figures with connections to the region. Condron thinks a future branding effort could be based on biosceinces, Marcellus Shale or connected with the labor force, area educational institutions and the road and rail network. In a diverse, large region, John Cognetti, a commercial real estate broker and chairman of Penn's Northeast, sees multiple overlaying efforts that include biosciences, energy, tourism and perhaps other things. "A lot of people have had a myopic vision of this region and what it could do," he said"Today's economic development people don't see those boundaries and our vision has to change." With anticipate growth in shipping activity to the East Coast, Cognetti wants to play the region's strong hand: as a logistics hubTaking a page from Riverside County, Calif., and its "Inland Empire" he'd like to pitch Northeastern Pennsylvania as the "Eastern Inland Empire." "I'm going to use it," he insisted. Branding is art, science and psychologyA consumer product company may spend millions creating, reviewing and tweaking a brand and brand message and still get it wrong or have to do it over in a few years. "We have yet to find that one easy description that both resonates outside the area and makes us distinct from other regions," Condron said"It's not easyBut we continue to work on it." try { _402_Show(); } catch(e) {} We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines: To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network IDSign up here. Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be bannedPlease help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to reviewBy posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditionsClick here to read terms and conditions. var disqus_identifier = '7.360086'; var disqus_title = 'Interstate plays role in branding region'; (function() { var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = ''; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })(); Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus. comments powered by Disqus

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