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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

JEFF'S TAKE: What's In an Area's Name?

Posted by: Jeff Rea, SJC Chamber, President and CEO on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

People in our region have strong feelings about the places they call home. And they have strong allegiances to their neighborhood, their school, and the city, town or county where they reside.

I think it’s a good thing for people to be tireless champions for their community. If everyone shared energy and passion for the places they live, this community would be a better place. If only we could convince everybody to be tireless champions for our region as well.

Recently, some of the media has been diving a little deeper into the Michiana area, the origins of the Michiana name, and whether the name is appropriate or whether we should be called something different.

What does the business community think? Take the organization I work for. Our primary focus is on the communities within St. Joseph County, which include South Bend, Mishawaka, Osceola, New Carlisle, Lakeville, Walkerton, North Liberty, Roseland, Indian Village and Granger.

But we also recognize that the customers who support our businesses in St. Joseph County don’t all live in St. Joseph County, nor do all of their employees come from our county. So we also support what happens in Elkhart, Goshen, Shipshewana, Nappanee, Middlebury, Wakarusa, Bristol, Plymouth, Culver, Bremen, Argos, LaPaz and Bourbon.

In addition, because they also are part of our region, what happens in Niles, Buchanan, St.Joseph, Benton Harbor, New Buffalo, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg, Vandalia, Marcellus, Berrien Springs, Bridgman, Stevensville, Coloma, Lakeside, Grand Beach, Union Pier, Watervliet and Baroda also matters.

Those 40-plus communities fit together and form the pieces of the puzzle that are our regional economy. No two communities are alike, each offering a unique history and distinctive attributes. We celebrate that. The truth is our businesses and attractions rely on customers and employees who come from every corner of those 40-plus communities, and the five primary counties in our region (Berrien and Cass in Michigan; St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall in Indiana). More than 720,000 people live in those five counties.

Throughout the year, our staff is scattered across the country connecting with site selectors, real estate professionals, company decision makers, and visitors championing the advantages of visiting or doing business here in our region. Indiana has one of the top business climates in the country so those professionals have taken note of the opportunities here in the Hoosier state. Our job is to then help them understand the advantages of being here in our region.

One of the things our customers from outside the area recognize is the name South Bend because of its connection with the University of Notre Dame and because of the South Bend International Airport. Those at least help differentiate us from the 5,000 other communities across the United States that also are competing for the same jobs, capital investment and visitors. Because our customers recognize it, we’ve tried to use it to our advantage.

“Michiana” has worked well internally when describing our area and has given residents of the region a common name to rally around. Outside, our customers have had a harder time identifying with Michiana, because it’s not a real place and can’t be found on a map. Perhaps we have different messages for our internal and our external audiences?

Across the country, our competitors aren’t arguing internally about what the local/regional effort should be called, and instead have focused their time and energy on getting people there. My hope is that we can take a similar approach here.

Source: South Bend Tribune