Learning from ICR’s failure

The joint economic development venture between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City was supposed to attract businesses and talent, foster cooperation and ultimately create an economic development organization uniting both ends of the Corridor.

The idea was, why fund a bunch of similar organizations when one could do the job?

Unfortunately, that did not happen under the leadership of Jennifer Daly and the joint venture called ICR Iowa that she led since 2017.

Now Ms. Daly is no longer leading ICR Iowa, and the organization is a shell of what it could have become.

Rather than build on some of the nominal regional successes that happened over the past 15 years, Ms. Daly chose to first scrap the regional Iowa’s Creative Corridor brand for ICR Iowa – the same name as the joint venture – after convening a handful of marketing professionals for a brief brainstorming session.

Never mind that “Corridor” had become part of our nomenclature, or that more than 100 businesses in the region have Corridor in their formal names, or that several media outlets in the region use the word in their taglines and products, like “Covering the Corridor” or “corridorcareers.com.”

Instead of building upon the joint venture’s initial momentum like we had hoped, Ms. Daly started by sowing confusion and angst with an ill-conceived brand, and squandered our best shot at a stronger region in more than a decade.

Where are we now with regionalism?

It is best to look back in history.

There was some regional momentum prior to the floods of 2008. But that disaster and a deteriorating economy caused businesses, communities and leaders to retrench and enter survival mode. It was understandable.

In 2009, several business executives rekindled regionalism efforts with the Corridor 2020 visioning effort and what became the Iowa’s Creative Corridor brand.

We are now back to the same spot in 2008, although this time the retrenchment has been caused by financial headwinds brought on by the coronavirus.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, we are hopeful that area executives will again take up the reins for stronger regional cooperation. It’s the right approach, even if Ms. Daly or ICR Iowa weren’t.

Until then, the external regional branding effort, which everyone agrees should continue, should be put in the hands of either a professional public relations firm, or an expert like Josh Schamberger, who has ably led the Iowa City/Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau for two decades, and is one of the most respected doers in the region.

Even with our current regional retrenchment, we don’t want to squander this opportunity to position the “Corridor” region as an amazing place to live, work or start a business and family, especially as workers reconsider living in densely populated cities.