There were some “oohs” “aahs” and “What the … ?” last year when, during the presentation of Fort Worth’s new Economic Development Plan, a discussion broke out on Fort Worth’s brand, i.e. Cowtown.
After a few ladies were given smelling salts, there was a brief – and tense – discussion about the city’s use of a longhorn in branding the city.
More than a few cringe a bit when we refer to ourselves as “Cowtown.” It doesn’t have that 21st century, catering to the millennial crowd, ring to it. On the other hand, many of us kind of love it.
It was a small, but important, discussion point during the presentation and the idea has come up a time or two since then. Basically we kicked the can down the road a bit, but it’s a conversation we’ll have to have at some point.
At least we’re not Richmond. Cows are one thing, but … well, I’ll let Christopher D. Lloyd, senior vice president and director, Infrastructure and Economic Development, at Richmond-based site selection firm McGuireWoods Consulting take it from here.
Speaking at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s 136th annual meeting, Lloyd said that Richmond – his home – has a really tough rebranding job ahead. Imagine, he said, having spent years branding your city as the historic “capital of the Confederacy.”
“That is not a message that goes over very well in 2018,” he said. “How to retain the greatness and richness and the beauty of our history and our city, the wonder of our history … how can you do that?”
Lloyd didn’t have any easy answers, for either the Capital of the South (another nickname for Richmond) or Cow … uh … Panther City:
“Do you want to be Cowtown or do you want to be known as the town west of the city to the east?”
Smart communities are figuring out who they are and how to define their unifying message to the world, and they’re putting everyone in the community behind it to tell their story, he said. “They’re branding themselves.”
As I said, we’ve kicked that can down the road, but it’s an uncomfortable discussion we’ll have to have. Sort of like talking to your kids about sex, except with about half a million people.
Why do we have to have the discussion? Because if Fort Worth is going to continue economic growth, we’re going to need a clear branding message to convey during site selection visits.
Lloyd noted that he really isn’t in the site selection business, but the site elimination business. If there’s a tagline or something about a community that stands out, it can help in site selection.
Aside from branding, Lloyd also criticized the fact that economic development has often taken place in secrecy. “That has to change,” he said, also noting that because of that secrecy, many political forces on the left and right have been critical of economic development.
“We need to tell people why business development is important,” he said. That means attending public meetings and explaining these development programs early on in the process, he said.
Lloyd also said business leaders need to engage with the educational establishment to help develop the workforces they will need in the future. “Smart communities are working to retain the people that are already in the community,” he said – such as those who are attending universities in the area.
“Keep them here,” he said.
Here in Cowtown … or whatever we are.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.
The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s annual Spirit of Enterprise Award was presented to Byrne Construction, the largest Fort Worth-based construction firm and the city’s largest Hispanic-owned construction firm. The 90-year-old company constructed the original Montgomery Plaza, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Pier 1 Imports building among many other iconic Fort Worth structures. John Avila, Jr., chairman, accepted the award. The Chamber also awarded the third annual Susan Halsey Executive Leadership Award to Rusty Reid, president and CEO of Higginbotham.