Strained Responses

Marketing, people, I’m talking about marketing!
I know there are people who are passionate about Laidlaw, one way or the other. I agree it is a big issue, and both Berlin papers have done a miserable job reporting on it. I intend to change that. I want to find out more about the company, about its history, about North American Dismantling, and about every aspect of biomass as it affects the citizens of Berlin.
Will bringing Laidlaw to the area solve all Berlin’s problems? No. Will keeping Laidlaw from opening in the area solve all Berlin’s problems? No.
Stop trying to make the story of Berlin the story of Laidlaw. It isn’t; it is only one part. I intend to use this blog to discuss all the issues I see as pertenant. Anyone who would like to join in the discussion is welcome.
Nancy Clark, owner of the Glen Group, a marketing company in North Conway hired to market the North Country, said she doesn’t see the boiler as that big an issue, whether it’s making electricity or rusting away. There are bigger issues to deal with than this. Even if North American Dismantling conspired with Laidlaw to sell them the boiler so PSNH can buy a biomass plant in five years that isn’t the biggest issue in Berlin. It isn’t the thing that will cause the city to fail or allow it to succeed.
Norm Charest said Berlin doesn’t have anything to market. He said the blight has to go before it is worth it. I completely disagree. I think Mr. Charest is afflicted with the same disease everyone else that has stared at the boiler too long suffers from: blindness. Or call it a lack of vision. There are business people moving here. They see opportunity. Burned out buildings will keep some people away — people looking for a sure thing. But that doesn’t mean they will keep everyone away.
People in search of a guaranteed investment will not come to Berlin. The city can’t offer a 10 percent rate of return. But people like Curt Burke are willing to invest millions of dollars in the area. Is he crazy? Or does he see something?
Coupled with Tim Cayer, Katie Paine, and Tom Bendah, that makes a spark. As Berlin knows, it only takes a spark to start a fire.
People are moving to the area. I have been profiling businesses for more than a month of people from here and from away who want to live in Berlin. It can draw. Why does even Mr. Charest refuse to see that?
I worry when the economic development director has lost faith in the city. But in this case I don’t worry for Berlin. The city does not have its plans in order to attract people. It is not doing a good job at marketing. But people are coming. The efforts of the state, which have failed Berlin for years, appear to be one of the few efforts citizens can count on. And yet people come.
Dick Huot, manager of Northern Forest Heritage Park, got a Maine television program to profile St. Kieran Community Center for the Arts, Northern Forest Heritage Park, Gorham Moose Tours and Jericho Mountain State Park. Where are other efforts like this? If the opinion is the area is too blighted and burned out to market, than this would be folly. Guess what? It isn’t folly. It is exactly what the city should be doing, the economic development director should be doing, and every private business in the area should be doing. The chamber of commerce, of which Mr. Huot is a member, should be working as hard as possible to get these images of the city out there.
Take a look at this video. Is it really so hard to imagine these pictures can’t bring people to the area? Is there really so much blight this sort of effort is futile?
I don’t think so, and so I don’t want to see a valid discussion about marketing turned into a debate about biomass.
Want to talk about Laidlaw? Fine, but don’t try to drown out other pertinent discussions with your personal obsession, at least not on this blog. I, as the local newspaper reporter, am working to improve every aspect of Berlin and the surrounding towns. That means I will be covering dozens of issues, and one issue cannot take all the oxygen out of the room, extinguishing all other conversation. So please, open up a little, and care about more in Berlin than just one issue. It does not all come back to Laidlaw. It used to all come back to the mill. Those days are over; help me determine what comes next.

And one more thing: instead of asking, “What is the state going to do to market the area?” when I say, “You can read about it in next week’s Berlin Reporter,” pick up a copy of the paper. Don’t ask me to tell you what I’m reporting on for free. You can buy 40 hours worth of my work for 50 cents — that’s cheap enough.

11 thoughts on “Strained Responses

  1. Great post. I agree that we have to move forward regardless of what happens with Laidlaw, and that marketing is the answer. What does it say that the area loves to get marketing plans written, but none of them ever get implemented. But, the reality is that its the threat of Laidlaw that stopped me from buying a building and making my office more permanent. Until I know that my employees can breathe clean air and work in a clean and quiet environment, I'm not going make that kind of a commitment.

  2. I will admit I am one of those who have been preoccupied by the mill site issue. (Notice I called it the mill site issue. Because that is what the fight is over in my opinion). It is important to me because I see the mill site as a rare opportunity with all kinds of potential that not many communities ever get. For Berlin it represents the (almost) clean slate from which to reinvent itself. An opportunity to completely transform from one thing, into something never before remotely considered. Which will ultimately affect this community for generations to come. It deserves and requires a lot of attention and discussion in my opinion. I consider myself fortunate to service this community at such an exciting time. Especially when there are so many talented and hard working individuals who strive every day to make Berlin a better community. From City Hall to Main Street, we must continue to all work together, or together we fail.For some who have called this place home their entire lives the thought of forging forward without heavy industry at it’s heart can be scary, challenging and threatening. As a relative newcomer, I have tremendous respect for the opinions and views of those who have always called it home. We may not always see eye-to-eye and I respect majority rule, but in the end I came here to do one thing. It is with that attitude that I forge ahead with my business plans regardless of which direction the people here choose to go. And yes I believe the choice is theirs, and no one else’s. I think your stories about the people who are running businesses here in Berlin are important. And there are many stories to tell. They are important because they help expose the reasons people are choosing Berlin NH for their business. That is crucial information! If you don’t know what brought them here, or what keeps them here, how do you know what will attract more?As I see it, in the world of economics business people are the community leaders. By their very actions they pave the way for others to follow. They seek out financial opportunity and potential and exploit it when they find it. But it’s not just about the money. I have heard many other reasons why people choose Berlin for their business. For myself I believe it’s the same reason about 10,000 people never left. Everything about this place reminds me of where I grew up. And I believe it also happens to be the same reason many are now coming here to visit regularly. But there is one thing I find many newcomers agree on. If you don’t know what I am talking about, just stand about anywhere in this valley and look around. What you see and what it represents is the bases from which you build a marketing plan in my opinion. It is the way this area markets itself every day without help from anyone.What Berlin has to market today is the same thing that has always been here. The obvious difference being that today it can no longer take it for granted. And even if some do not see it, those who do are the ones who will have a lasting impact on this community. Here is a short list of issues I think need discussing from a business perspective.- I would like to see a Berlin Business Association. A business owners association that is focused on addressing the issues, concerns and needs of business people in Berlin. I believe Berlin can and must do a better job at being business friendly. – Berlin small businesses need access to capital in the form of a revolving loan fund program.- I have heard many say that job retention and job growth are the objectives. I would like to know what is the strategy for achieving those goals and who is implementing them?PS, I have been a BR subscriber since day 1. Keep up the good work.

  3. Love your blog Erik and you can pick on me anytime, the conversation is important. Laidlaw has been a distraction and it will neither save or doom the City, if it stays it makes certain things more difficult or impossible to achieve. We need to take seriously what Katie has to say since she isn't the only person with that outlook. I meet most people who come to Berlin looking for business opportunities and I can assure you that it's not an easy sell. Since the mill closed we've had a steady stream of prospects who came looked around and left, but are still interested. I'll tell you what they're waiting for, they're waiting to see what the City and its citizens are going to do. Like Katie, they don't want to invest in a community that "doesn't know what its going to be when it grows up". We've been much better at figuring out what we don't want to be than what we do want to be. I hope that Berlin's 21/21 Initiative will start the process where people can develop a new vision, give them a direction to focus not only their efforts, but their hopes and dreams. Yes we have all the ingredients necessarry to attract people and investments, but you need more than ingredients to bake a cake or develop an economy, you need a recipe. It could be that we'll write the recipe on this blog.

  4. It's interesting to note that of the businesses that have come here despite the eyesore on the Burgess mill site, Katie is saying she wouldn't buy because of it, and Tim is very concerned for the mill sites future with a preference of a clean slate. These new business people came here despite the eyesore as very few others do. Just how many, however, visit only to leave as a result of that Burgess mill site appearance? Over my 24 years in this city I can attest to droves of visitors leaving and never returning after just one visit. It's interesting to note that the economic director who has had more hands on experience with trying to entice people states that the Burgess mill site has long been a stumbling block towards enticing "would be" investors yet certainly he isn't negative in his presentations of the area! He focuses on the positives despite all the negatives as we all do as I'm sure Tim and Katie can attest to. Frankly I think it was a rather low blow to state anyone here is "afflicted with the same disease everyone else that has stared at the boiler too long suffers from: blindness. Or call it a lack of vision. There are business people moving here. They see opportunity. Burned out buildings will keep some people away — people looking for a sure thing. But that doesn't mean they will keep everyone away." Let me tell you something loud and clear Eric…It Has!!! "Nancy Clark, owner of the Glen Group, a marketing company in North Conway hired to market the North Country, said she doesn't see the boiler as that big an issue." I welcome such a expert marketing company. At the same time, Nancy hasn't witnessed the trials and tribulations of living under the smoke stack, and you might ask her if she's done any research on the company vowing for that position who's bilked an entire town out of millions and then followed through with a ten million dollar suit, just to mention one little detail out of dozens. I can also attest to a great deal of marketing on my part of the Berlin area without even mentioning the name Berlin in an effort to sell the sizzle of the area and not the meat and potatoes of the mill that turned people off. Though I am not a marketing expert, I have a background in marketing for twenty years and a college education pertinent to that field. Curb appeal, I'm afraid, Eric, means alot to marketing. It is a major hurdle to overcome, and whether we like the subject nature or not, what use the Burgess mill site eventually holds will define Berlin to a large degree. You really need to focus your research on the impact such a massive biomass plant has to offer before you can say such a plant isn't the center of everything. Upon my research and due to its location I believe it could dramatically impact a positive outcome for not only this area but the region. Jon

  5. Marketing doesn't start with the mill site, and it can't end their either. If Berlin faces the setback of a biomass facility in the center of town it may be one more setback, but it isn't a fatal blow.Katie said she doesn't want to build a company here unless there is clean air to breathe. If Clean Power comes, won't that affect the air too? Why would Laidlaw's smoke be more harmful? Both she and Tim are right, it will be harder to market the city if there is a smoking stack in the center of town, but is a functioning green energy plant worse than a rusting hunk of junk? If Laidlaw falls apart and no one else takes up the project, who will pay to remove the boiler? These are viable questions to ask, because they affect the city as much as if Laidlaw builds.Norm and Jon have made this issue their passion, which I respect, but I don't know that it has resulted in generative discourse. Jon is no doubt telling the truth that he has put a ton of money into marketing, all without mentioning "Berlin." Why? Because Berlin is a dirty word in the rest of the state. People take circuitous routes to avoid driving through Berlin because they've heard so many negative things about it. That has to change. Berlin has to take its image into its own hands. Tim is right — Berlin is beautiful. The city needs to capitalize its beauty.The state is working on several initiatives to improve the North Country's image; what is Berlin doing? If you say you can't do it with a biomass plant or a boiler in town, I say you're wrong. Berlin has beautiful buildings, beautiful mountains and a beautiful river. Berlin needs to not be a dirty word. It doesn't matter if there is a biomass plant, a casino or a prison in town, if the acrid taste of the name Berlin isn't removed, the city will never flourish. The rest is only window dressingI don't disagree that Laidlaw is an issue that has to be dealt with, but it isn't the issue to the exclusion of all others. I find it hard to believe that the resilient residents of Berlin, after decades of hard times, would give up on the city if Laidlaw comes to town. Berlin will move forward, come what may.This isn't a forum for just one issue, because there are more issues to deal with. Berlin residents and officials complain loudly about fires and section eight housing, and then people are surprised the so southern part of the state hear doesn't want to come here? How does that help Berlin's image? How does that market the city? All the southern part of the state hears about is casinos, prisons, fires and poverty. Berlin needs other images out there, Laidlaw or not.

  6. Thanks for your intuitive thoughts Eric. There is a huge difference between the two biomass projects once you research them. Clean Power can operate with carbon neutrality, emissions are about the equivalent of 6 outdoor furnaces, truck loads of noise are far fewer and start in the morning and end at approx. 5:00 p.m. rather than 24 hours a day as with Laidlaw. Sustainability of the area forest isn't an issue with Clean Power where it is with Laidlaw. And, most importantly Clean Power is located significantly away from the area's population.The way to rid Berlin of its dirty image is a long road that more effectively begins with a clean slate on the Burgess mill site. Will we make the best of having to contend with the continuance of a smoke if we need to? Absolutely. But we don't NEED it, based on the fact that the area has better choices to make that accomplish the State's initiative at the same time. Jon

  7. Again it is sad to see people turn every issue back to Laidlaw. It simply isn't the case that it is the only issue in town. To ignore all other issues because of it is shortsighted. A solution oriented approach, like that of Tim Cayer, is to see what the area has to offer, not simply trumpet its problems. With more efforts like his and Katie's, who tweets about Berlin's assets weekly, the city can turn around despite the challenges. These two out-of-towners are doing work the city has been unable or unwilling to take on. They understandably have concerns about Laidlaw, but they don't let it dominate their view of the city. Who is going to follow their lead?Someone told me people dumb down when they talk about the biomass issue; they stop listening to other people's opinions and simply chant their mantra. I see what that person meant. The issue is important, but it isn't everything to the city. If the city waits for the mill site to be empty to start marketing that may be five, 10, 20 years away. Waiting until then is an effective way to kill the city; more effective than a biomass plant.

  8. Erik, just make sure you don't become as obsessed with "marketing" as some are with Laidlaw. I just don't believe marketing is the first step in turning Berlin around anymore than it's the first step in starting a business. Most professionals will tell you that the first step in starting a business is a "business plan" where time is taken to think-out and write down the important components and steps of the project. Failure often comes to those who see this process as a waste of time, they leap into action which turns to chaos rather than success.

  9. No Norm, I just see a lot of good in Berlin and hear a lot of bad. I'd love some help in celebrating the positives.

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