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Fay-West needs to change its image

| Monday, Oct. 13, 2003

Southwestern Pennsylvania suffers from an image gap, and the primary group that has yet to learn the truth lives right here.

Many residents of the region still believe in its long-held reputation as "hell with the lid off" that stems from its dirty steel-town days.

"We contribute to buyer's remorse," said Bill Flanagan, chief communications officer for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and spokesman for the region's Image Gap Committee, which is working to change that mindset.

While methodically researching facts on the region, one of the key points the Image Gap Committee found was that newcomers to this area notice residents' low self-esteem. Often, newcomers are quizzed by locals as to why they even came to the region, Flanagan said.

But economic development, tourism and convention-related organizations from the 10-county region have begun to put into play what was learned from the work of the Image Gap Committee.

Now, individual groups that market their services to their target audiences can use similar color schemes and type faces in their printed materials -- a formula to tie the groups into a coordinated regional campaign. The thinking is that such a campaign will be effective because tourists, businesses and talented individuals looking for career opportunities in the region aren't interested in political boundaries. They look more at what the region has to offer.

Flanagan was moderator for a program recently at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg titled "Winning in Westmoreland," sponsored by the university and the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses, tourists and people looking to build a career come here for five primary reasons, according to the Image Gap Committee's research:

= The region offers a world class urban setting, and a small town feel.

= There is a genuine opportunity to make an impact on the community.

= The region has a tremendous cultural heritage and is home to innovation and transformation in a number of areas.

= The work ethic is alive and well in southwestern Pennsylvania.

= There are rivers, mountains and outdoor adventure surrounding unique, urban beauty.

Examine the strengths, and it's obvious quality of life is a big part of the region's positives. They combined, for example, to help Sony decide that the New Stanton area should be the home of its eastern U.S. manufacturing site. Still, the site near New Stanton is not called Sony-New Stanton or Sony-Westmoreland County, but rather Sony Technology Center-Pittsburgh. It's a regional thing.

"Our first office was in Hunker -- no Japanese employee of Sony knew where Hunker was," said Michael Koff, Sony's local public affairs manager. "But they knew Pittsburgh."

While locals suffer from "low-esteemitis," another problem with people who are long-time, or perhaps life-long, residents, is that for whatever reason, they are not aware of the numerous activities and points of interest the county and the region have to offer.

Annie Urban, executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, which markets tourism in Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties, said the tourist industry is a $600 million-a-year business in the three counties.

People need to get out, see what's available to do and see, because when friends, business associates and relatives visit, they can become convinced of the region's attributes.

"Become a backyard tourist -- get out and see what we have to offer," Urban said.

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