The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2008

County part of Team NEO marketing efforts

Ashtabula County is part of a 16-county alliance aimed at marketing the Northeast Ohio region to employers and business investors, many of have never heard of Ashtabula, let alone Mentor, Akron or Youngstown.

Team NEO was initially formed in 2003 by FirstEnergy Corporation and several chambers of commerce from the Cleveland, Akron/Canton and Mahoning Valley regions. It has since grown into a wider marketing organization that promotes northeast Ohio to the world and serves as a user-friendly central point.

Carin Rockind, vice-president of marketing and communications for Team NEO, says there has been increased involvement from Ashtabula County in the past year. A business development committee was recently formed and includes representation from Joseph Mayernick, executive director of the Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County.

Team NEO is one-third of the Cleveland-Plus marketing program, which was developed to brand the region to an external audience; think of Cleveland-Plus as the Northeast Ohio equivalent of “The Big Apple.”

“Cleveland Plus is the brand name we use to describe or sell northeast Ohio. It’s a name for northeast Ohio that people from outside can use to identify with,” Rockind says.

Before developing a brand name for the region, the group commissioned a survey of 1,000 homes across the United States to gauge existing perceptions of northeast Ohio. She says 63 percent of the respondents had no impression of the region – actually a good sign. “It’s a blank slate,” she says.

Cleveland Plus uses a multi-tiered marketing campaign that includes a public relations firm to pitch news stories about the area to national media. about Youngstown.

Team NEO and Cleveland Plus also provide local economic development organizations, such as Growth Partnership, with the tools to help sell the region.

“We’ve been told it’s a very difficult region to work because it is so large, it is difficult to determine who to call,” says Rockind.

Industries targeted by the group include biomedical and medical devices because of the high concentration of medical care and manufacturing in Cleveland. The area is also ripe for call centers; Amherst in Lorain County recently landed a call center that will add 500 new jobs.

While Cleveland Plus is designed to be a cheerleader for Northeast Ohio, the focus of its marketing literature is decidedly Akron/Canton/Cleveland. The official 2007-2008 Fall/Winter Cleveland Plus Visitors Guide ignores local attractions with the exception of Ohio Wines and the Ohio Wine Trails.