The city of Ann Arbor is no longer growing-but you'd never know it to look at Ann Arbor SPARK's renamed website, AnnArborUSA.org. The economic development group's map of the "Ann Arbor region" includes all of Washtenaw County. In a recent presentation, Amy Cell of SPARK explained that people outside the immediate area have never heard of Washtenaw, but "Ann Arbor is an international brand." However, Suzanne Shaw, who represented Ypsilanti on the county commission at the time of SPARK's inception as the "Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority," doesn't like the implication that her city is merely an extension of Ann Arbor. "I find it strange that they are trying to market this whole area as Ann Arbor after all these years of putting down Ypsilanti as not a good place to live," Shaw says. "We like our identity."
SPARK marketing manager Elizabeth Parkinson calls that "local thinking"-the audience for the "Ann Arbor" brand, she says, is international. Once SPARK has interested a business prospect into coming to the region, Parkinson adds, all local communities are free to "have their own messaging in place" to sell themselves. And, Amy Cell notes, such branding is not unique to this area-during a recent visit to Ann Arbor, officials from Orange County, North Carolina, revealed that their county now markets itself as "Chapel Hill."
[Originally published in November, 2008.]