A version of this article appeared in Soundview Rising
The City of New Rochelle is in a cycle of continuing to try to improve its business climate. Last September it launched a branding initiative which the city stated would "discover, define and design the city's unique marketplace advantages to attract businesses, residents and visitors." In the city's view selecting an outside firm to conduct this project would create "objectivity" according to a press release. North Star Destinations, a Nashville-based firm was selected for this task. This firm has helped develop brands for more than 170 cities, regions, communities and municipalities nationwide. "Interestingly, the city's IDA (Industrial Development Agency) financed the initiative with $15,000.
Last September a series of meetings were held to discover New Rochelle's identity. History, culture, geographic and the city's society of place would be sought according to Northstar. The CEO of Northstar, Don McEachem, felt the Branding process will create "tools to effectively manage the conversation." This in his view would help build a "reputation that is fair, honest and powerful." In the study's final stages the selected brand for New Rochelle will be communicated though signs, special events, on-line initiatives, merchandising" and other means.
IDA member Marianne Sussman felt the city's positive values are not well known. The branding strategy will pull together all the diversity of the community and "solidify" the city's position in the marketplace.
Several; visionary meetings were held in September with North Star representatives to get input from residents and businessmen on the city's strengths and weaknesses. North Star said the would analyze these suggestions along with on-line comments made by city residents.
A survey of 25 questions was prepared by North Star and recently released in two ways: online at www.newrochellenyl.com/branding or by printed copies which were placed in selected places such as the library. This copies needed to be returned to the City Clerk's office. All surveys were completed by December 14, 2014 but there is no indication of how North Star will determine anything about the resident's location in the city or when they will report on their results.. The age, ethnic identity, income and residents are questioned. There is no indication of whether the business owners and non residents will be analyzed separately from the residents' comments.
Requests for answers to the questions listed below were not answered by the Commissioner of Development.
1. What is the time line (time frame) for the branding initiative dates? The first date I have is September 9, 2014. What is the finish date?
2. How much money is being given the North Star company (in total) for their work. I have recorded $15,000 from the IDA. Can you explain where the IDA got this money and if any other city funds are being used?
3. The questionnaire to my knowledge was released this week. Residents have until December 14 to enter data. How will you secure opinions of residents who do not have computers and may not know where the paper copies are posted? Is the list of these places available? How will non English speaking residents be surveyed?
4. Will non residents' answers to questions be tallied separately so they don't slant the opinions of New Rochelle residents?
5. How will you deal with questions that do not apply to everyone answering: e.g. about "my child's school." Why is this an option?
6.. Why are business owners who are not residents included? Will they be tallied separately?
The RDRXR Master Development Agreement which was recently passed by City Council will also survey public opinion by opening a storefront in New Rochelle's downtown. Although they will probably be given the results of this branding survey, the same problem exists: how will they obtain an unbiased sample of residents. Some Council members have stated they will not vote for any plan proposed by this firm unless it is financially beneficial to the taxpayers of New Rochelle. Based on the most recent downtown development this will be a difficult goal to achieve.