November 7, 2010

Skowhegan starts branding effort

By Scott Monroe
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — We are Skowhegan, Maine.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

We Are Skowhegan, Maine ...

Our name is a Native American term for “a Place to Watch: as the Abenaki beckoned their people to come here for its abundant fish and wildlife.

We are tied to our land — We have always been a center of agriculture where people have gathered each year for nearly two centuries at the Nation’s Oldest State Fair. Today, we look to the land in innovative ways. Whether it is hydroponic gardening or a reinvented grist mill. Our history of agriculture is not mere legacy, but a way to chart our future.

— Branding & Marketing by Arnett Muldrow & Associates

That’s the introduction to a community branding and marketing plan for Skowhegan to attract business and tourism and to lay the groundwork for community development grants for downtown revitalization.

Arnett Muldrow & Associates of Greenville, S.C. completed the study for presentation to the town this week, said Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan.

“They’re urban planners, they’re not an ad agency,” Olsen said. “The way they craft their work is ‘we want the true story, not the fluff story.’ We  want the authentic personality of the community.”

The branding is Skowhegan’s identity.

Community leaders, town officials — even a group of high school and middle school students took part in meetings last week to look at the legacy of Skowhegan as a chart to the future, Olsen said.

The Main Street Skowhegan board was joined by Skowhegan and Somerset County economic development directors, representatives from Redington Fairview General Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce, along with Franklin Savings, York Signs, The Bankery and Russakoff Jewelers.
Local donations paid for the $5,000 study, not the town of Skowhegan, Olsen said.

“A branding is taking the essential message of our personality — the telling of our story,” Olsen said. “This is an exercise in good news; this is, on our best day what we want to shine about our community, what we are most proud of.”

The identity and the slogan for Skowhegan has been there all along Olsen said. It is “Skowhegan, a Place to Watch,” what the Abenaki people called the land and the river, with its iconic water falls, where sea-run salmon and other fish were abundant.

Olsen said the town’s connection to the Kennebec River, the connection to the land through agriculture and the sense of community form the town’s identity, it’s brand.

Top on the branding of Skowhegan is the Skowhegan State Fair, the longest continuously operating agricultural fair in the nation, along with waterfront development, walking trails and Run of River, the proposed white water park in the Kennebec Gorge, right through the middle of town.

There is a grist mill underway in the former county jail, soon to offer artisan bread, arts and crafts. There is the annual Kneading Conference, which has attracted bakers from all over the country to Skowhegan. There is the historic flatiron district along Water Street with it’s unique architecture.

There is a classic movie theater downtown, a pub in an old mill, a daily newspaper office, a free public library, a bakery in a former bank, art galleries, a farmers’ market, a shoe manufacturer, a historic swinging bridge and old farms re-energized by young families looking to make a life on the land.
Skowhegan also is known for its maple sugar production, for it’s favorite daughter, the late U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and the world’s best chocolate ice cream.

The images contained in the Arnett Muldrow branding document can be used, free of charge, by local businesses and development and civic groups for their own advertising or promotions, Olsen said.

“We want to make this accessible to everybody, because nobody can afford an ad agency to design this stuff so we want to share it digitally,” she said. “And it’s already all paid for.”

Olsen said the completed branding document for the town of Skowhegan will be distributed locally first, then to the Maine Department of Tourism and later for inclusion on the state of Maine website, as well as public relations efforts statewide. It also will serve as a foundation for a comprehensive downtown plan for future block grant funding and downtown revitalization.

Main Street Skowhegan also has joined the Kennebec, Moose River Tourism Council, Olsen said.

“Skowhegan is not known for being flowery or elegant — it’s got a rustic quality that we want to embrace and use,”  she said. “It’s real; it’s not like, when you go to Freeport, it’s a mall that just happens to be outside. People really do live their lives here. We really wanted to be proud of that — and own it.”

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