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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Nov. 6, 201803:47 PM EST

St. Johns County questions Jacksonville branding proposal

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Commission votes to withhold funding for JAXUSA Partnership, which offers to explain the report.
by: Jay Schlichter Staff Writer

The St. Johns County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday morning to withhold payments to the JAXUSA Partnership after a September report that recommended rebranding Northeast Florida as Jacksonville.

JAXUSA Partnership said Tuesday afternoon it would speak with commissioners to explain the report.

The report, “Elevate Northeast Florida,” was presented Sept. 18 at a forum held by JAXUSA, which is the economic development division of JAX Chamber and funded by seven regional counties, including St. Johns.

The report included a suggestion to “embrace Jacksonville as the name of the region versus 'Northeast Florida.'”

“The impact of a shared, regional brand is recognized and magnified when local organizations agree to lead with the name of the largest, most globally-recognized city in its region,” the report states in a chapter on establishing a strong, unified regional brand.

On Tuesday, the five St. Johns commissioners said rebranding the entire region would not represent the county's interests and individuality.

Test from the report calls for the "phase out" of Northeast Florida.

“There was a St. Augustine before there was a Cowford. There was a St. Augustine before there was a Jacksonville,” said St. Johns District 2 Commissioner Jeb Smith.

St. Augustine, known as the nation's oldest city, is a tourist destination and the county seat of St. Johns County.

Cowford was an early name for Jacksonville.

Smith also objected to the way the report was rolled out. “From my perspective, this was pushed on us,” he said.

The other four commissioners agreed, adding that JAXUSA should have notified them about the report before it was made public.

They also said that St. Johns taxpayers money was used for a report they don't support.

In response to commissioners' questions, County Administrator Michael Wanchick said the county provides $50,000 in dues annually to JAXUSA, which is used for marketing and other forms of representation.

JAXUSA represents Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties in marketing the region for economic development.

“What businesses has JAXUSA helped bring to St. Johns County, and are they helping promote our area?” asked commission Vice Chair Paul Waldron.

Wanchick said JAX Chamber officials contacted St. Johns County staff before the meeting, asking that it remove the discussion item from the agenda.

At the beginning of the meeting, the item was pulled by staff but Smith brought it back up during commissioner statements.

The commission voted 5-0 to direct its staff to withhold payments to JAXUSA Partnership until the report's rebranding recommendation is explained and what the partnership is providing to support St. Johns.

JAXUSA Partnership President Aundra Wallace issued a statement after the meeting that he will.

“I welcome the opportunity to meet with the full St. Johns County Commission and county management regarding our Elevate strategy and JAXUSA Partnership,” Wallace said.

The report was prepared by Avalanche Consulting Inc., an Austin, Texas-based economic development strategic consultant. It said the report was prepared after two years of community engagement and that more than 1,500 stakeholders contributed about 1,300 hours of their time to the report.

Elevate Northeast Florida cited Greater Austin, CharlotteUSA, Greater Columbus Region and Metro Denver as examples of metropolitan areas that market under the name of the largest city.

“The few regions who lead with their geographic position (e.g., 'Team Northeast Ohio' in the Cleveland region) have a weak-performing center city,” the report states.

“Because of this, Jacksonville (e.g., Greater Jacksonville, JAXUSA) should be the go-to name of the region.”

The report also suggests a new brand theme to match the region's “DNA.”

“A vision emerged from the process that reflects what many cherish about the region: Our waterways, the river, ocean, Intracoastal, and preserves that surround the region not only nourish us, but also literally inspire and guide strategic decisions.”

The report suggests the area be themed “The Water Life Center of America,” and encourages other agencies to adopt the new theme.

The report was initiated in March by the JAXUSA Partnership, Northeast Florida Regional Council, CareerSource Northeast Florida and other partners.

Avalanche Consulting and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning were chosen to prepare the report.

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