What Does 'New England' Mean in the New Global Economy?
When I say Hollywood, what industry comes to mind?
If I say Silicon Valley, could you name a couple companies based there?
Nashville conjures up country music chords, and Seattle connotes e-commerce, coffee roasting, and monopolistic makers of operating systems.
So here’s an experiment to try the next time you meet someone at a party in San Francisco, or sit next to a non-New Englander on a flight from O’Hare.
Ask them what their associations are when you say “New England” or “Massachusetts.”
I think you’ll be surprised how often you get responses like “the Boston Tea Party,” “the Revolution,” “covered bridges,” “Ben & Jerry’s,” “the Red Sox,” “history,” or “Kerry, Kennedy and Dukakis.” (I know – I’ve been trying this for the past year or so.)
This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that what we have here is a failure to communicate. While denizens of the six New England states may be aware how much goes on here – from developing new drugs to deploying advanced robots to designing new videogames – the rest of the planet is pretty clueless.
I think that our great opportunity for 2009, as the world figures out how to emerge from its fiscal funk, is to come up with a strategy for telling our story. This is a hotbed of innovation, and we need the smartest people everywhere to know that. The smartest students already come here to get educated, but we need the smartest entrepreneurs to come here to set up shop; the smartest investors to set up branch offices; and the smartest big-company execs to establish manufacturing, R&D, or sales and marketing presences.
This is not a project for government. They don’t have the money, and we don’t have the time to wait for the six New England states to figure out how to coordinate a joint economic development initiative. (The end result, anyhow, would probably just be a press release.)
This is also probably not a project that our trade associations can lead; each of them has their own priorities, and limited staffs and budgets. (But we can urge them to get on board once we’ve got a plan.)
Instead, this is a project for people who work in the innovation industries around New England. I think we need to stop thinking about how to pitch Portsmouth, Portland, Burlington, North Adams, Cambridge, or Providence as a globally-relevant business hub – and instead come up with a strategy for positioning the entire region as a beacon of innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Revolutionary ideas since 1776” might be a nice slogan.
But more than a signle slogan, I think we need a raft of ideas (most of which would be free or cheap to execute) about better branding New England and explaining what we do here.
A few I’d toss out, just to get your creative juices flowing:
- A series of YouTube videos profiling New England entrepreneurs, live Webcasts with pioneering academic researchers, or iTunes podcast interviews with angel investors and VCs.
- A small logo that New England businesses would add to their Web sites, linked to a page offering information about the innovation economy here, and the particular sector they’re part of.
- A Google map showcasing all of the robotics companies here…medical device companies…cleantech start-ups…venture capital firms.
- A page of “talking points” for execs and entrepreneurs, offering high-level info about all the different innovation industries in the region, and a few salient stats about company creation, venture capital activity, patents issued per capita, etc.
- A Flickr photoset of company headquarters, labs, academic institutions, etc.
- A Facebook group or Google calendar to keep people apprised of major conferences, seminars, trade shows, and industry events in the region.
2009 is going to be a “rebuilding” year for every state, every industry, the global economy as a whole. Everyone is going to be trying to figure out where new growth can come from.
I think that creates an incredible chance for those of us in New England to talk about what we do, make our case, brand our region, and as a result, attract people, partnerships, and business from far and wide.
This post is only intended to get us thinking together about the opportunity: spreading the message globally about what our region is about. If I were forced to encapsulate it, I’d say, “New England is where scientific breakthroughs and big ideas turn into start-ups, big companies, and entirely new industries.”
But I know you’ll serve up some better ways to say it… and great strategies for communicating it.