A popular word now from the advertising world is “branding.” MBA students and corporate honchos are enamored with it at the moment. It might be a really useful word for one thing that we need to do for Oak Ridge. How would you “brand” Oak Ridge?
“The Secret City” is fun and historically valid but not a contemporary reflection. “Energy City” has an appeal to the scientifically minded, as would “Atomic City” or even “The Science City.” In truth, though, those brands apply more to the federal activities alone than to the town where Oak Ridgers live and play.
I asked myself, “What makes Oak Ridge different, more attractive to some of us than Knoxville or (shhh) Farragut?” What is it that attracts and satisfies folks from around the country and the world and persuades them to stay or move here? More than anything else this is what comes up: Oak Ridge is really a Hometown. Dedicated, long-time residents of our town include four generations now.
When I talk with people who have changed employers in order to stay here, they talk about how it feels to live here, about their friends and the town’s atmosphere, about the activities they are involved in. So, in fact, do many of the people who have chosen to move here to retire. So do people who live here and work in other areas.
We have everything people need and a lot of what they desire. We are more diverse than many cities and tolerant of differences, even welcoming. We have good medical resources, an abundance of food sources, greenways and waterways, and above average professional craftspeople. We have an extraordinary range of post-secondary learning opportunities.
We have the makings for becoming the country’s most desirable hometown: location, resources, and great citizens. We have space and demographics to accommodate retailers. Still, we are not yet known for our greatest assets and we are not yet attracting some of the folks we need and some of those we know would love to live here.
Our inexpensive homes to rent or buy can be readily improved as a family’s resources provide. They have already attracted many from the surrounding area. These new neighbors and friends are a huge positive.
To continue as a stable community with the unusually high expectations this town has been accustomed to, we need more residents who want to stay here, raise children here, invest in the community, and imagine a thriving future.
We are still struggling with the declining values of some small rental properties and homes that don’t get improved. We could benefit from more new residents with discretionary funds to keep our heritage homes growing in value. As the early neighborhoods become more attractive, the new neighborhoods will grow as well.
The question has been: how do we get there?
I propose that we start thinking of ourselves as Hometown U.S.A. or Hometown America. Let’s paint it in large letters on the south face of the Centrifuge Way overpass: Welcome Home to Oak Ridge, A Place for Everyone.
Then let’s start a discussion of what we need to get or achieve to make that “brand” a fundamental truth. If we know where we want to go, we can build a strategy for getting there.