Save the ‘Corridor’

By John Lohman / Guest Opinion

I’m passionate about the Corridor. Not just the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City region, but the Corridor brand.

I co-founded the Corridor Business Journal in North Liberty in 2004 and had the privilege of leading the first formalized regional branding effort from 2009-2011.

Branding in our region for economic development purposes was first utilized in the ‘90s. “Iowa’s Technology Corridor” was an inadvertent placeholder on letterhead and business cards when Cedar Rapids and Iowa City economic development officials started working together for the first time to try to attract an automotive plant to the region.

Little thought was put into that brand, other than the “Technology Corridor” was meant to represent the area between The Eastern Iowa Airport and the UI Research Park in Coralville.

The recruiting of the auto plant wasn’t successful, but it opened people’s eyes to what more could be done regionally, and started to reinforce the presence and importance of the regional economy.

Not long after that a few entrepreneurs, including me, started giving this “Corridor” name more prominence by incorporating it into the naming of their companies and organizations.

The first formalized regional branding process started in 2009 after regional economic development leader Michael Langley, who now leads the economic development organization in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, came to talk to more than 300 business and community leaders in November 2009 about highly effective regions and the need for us to have an identifiable brand.

The regional branding effort that I chaired wasn’t perfect, but we took our charge seriously with a steering committee of 10 prominent community leaders; the hiring of a branding firm, which specialized in regional branding; an advisory group of nearly four dozen community, business and government leaders; and input from more than 1,000 individuals from across the region.

This two-year effort resulted in the “Iowa’s Creative Corridor” brand and, for the first time, geographically defined the region as Kirkwood Community College’s seven-county territory.

The Creative Corridor brand is an homage to the deep creative history we have in the region with the UI’s Writer’s Workshop to Art Collins with Collins Radio to Grant Wood to the region feeding the world. It’s also aspirational, speaking to our desire to create more startups in the region.

To be sure, the Creative Corridor brand wasn’t perfect, nor was its implementation. Some people liked the new brand. Some didn’t. That’s to be expected.

One thing is clear: Over the past decade, more than 200 entities have embraced “Corridor” in their own organization’s brand, from Linn County’s Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization to KGAN’s “Covering the Corridor” tagline to The Gazette’s website, to Cedar Rapids’ Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy Magnet School to the soon-to-open Corridor Dental in North Liberty, among countless others.

Let’s not forget that most of these entities have a financial institution, an accounting firm and other support businesses tied to their continued success.

I was therefore disappointed that Jennifer Daly, the new CEO of a nascent, but promising joint economic development venture between the Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD) and the Cedar Rapids Area Metro Economic Alliance who returned to the region after being away for more than a decade, convened 17 marketing folks – many of whom I greatly admire and respect – and unilaterally decided after a few days of deliberation that the regional Iowa’s Creative Corridor brand wasn’t good enough any longer, nor did the word Corridor have enough brand equity to be retained.

The new regional brand they now rec­ommend is “ICR Iowa.”

I generally view regional branding and regionalism as a long process. After all, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, Sili­con Valley in California and Austin, Texas – three celebrated, vibrant regions – took decades to grow into the internationally recognized brands they have become.

Figuring out a brand for the Cedar Rap­ids-Iowa City region will take time, Mr. Langley told the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s editorial board in 2009. “That’s a process, and that’s not something you’re going to know overnight,” he said.

Tweaking a brand is healthy. I would have hoped that Ms. Daly would have given Iowa’s Creative Corridor another try since its implementation was admittedly lacking. But I strongly feel that not including Corri­dor in any regional name is a huge mistake, because it eliminates much of the internal regional awareness and acceptance that has taken place over the past decade.

Ms. Daly should reconsider the new brand name before alienating a burgeon­ing segment of our “Corridor” community that already use this moniker.

John Lohman is publisher of the Corridor Business Journal.