It’s not Northern California, it’s ‘Upstate’ | SierraSun.com

It’s not Northern California, it’s ‘Upstate’

John Dickey, Sun News Service

GRASS VALLEY – Trying to fix what some see as a regional identity crisis that hampers marketing efforts, economic development officials have come up with a new handle for California’s 20 northernmost counties: Upstate California.

“People don’t know much about the area, and that’s part of the problem. We’ve been somewhat overlooked over time,” said Larry Burkhardt, head of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council.

Burkhardt is also chairman of NorCal IDEA, a nonprofit regional economic development organization that is changing its name to the Upstate California Economic Development Council, and which is spearheading the Upstate California campaign.

Burkhardt was to be at the state Capitol in Sacramento last weekend to help officially unveil the new name.

All seven of the region’s state legislators were expected to attend a press conference at the Capitol, along with state Chamber of Commerce leaders and development officials.

Some say lumping the region in with all of Northern California is confusing when trying to explain to business owners why they should consider moving here.

To outsiders, Burkhardt said, the name Northern California conjures images of San Francisco or the wine country, but no clear picture of the state’s northern rural section.

So anyone pitching the area must start by explaining what it is – a huge, mostly rural region the size of New York state that has 30 percent of the state’s land area but only 3 percent of the population.

The new name and a media campaign will give the diverse region a more distinct identity, supporters of the proposal hope. And that will help when marketing the region to businesses outside the state, or tourists.

“If you don’t have an identity, an image, it’s a lot harder to create a desire in prospects,” Burkhardt said.

Any news about an area that most people don’t even know exists is potentially helpful, said Dan Ripke, director of the Center for Economic Development at California State University at Chico.

“The whole idea is to draw attention on part of the northern state that many people believe is completely forgotten,” Ripke said.

One challenge in getting media attention will be money for magazine ads, Ripke said. Some $100,000 has been budgeted next year for advertising in specialized magazines covering site selection and business relocation, direct mail and other promotional activities.

Another challenge is to compete with identities established in some areas. Chico television stations refer to their coverage area as North State, and people on the northern coastline often refer to their area as the Lost Coast.

“It’s going to be a tough sell,” Ripke said. “They have to change people’s opinions of themselves.”

Upstate California was picked over 20 other would-be regional names, including North State, California’s True North and California’s Pacific Northwest.

Upstate California ran fourth in surveys of business people and public relations professionals, said Robert Berry, president of the Upstate California EDC.

The Upstate moniker was upstaged in the surveys by California’s True North and California North Country. But the Upstate California EDC board picked Upstate California to make a clean break from names that included the word “north,” considered to be a source of confusion, said Berry, who is also development specialist for the California Technology, Trade and Commerce Department.

The region’s selling points are its scenic attractions, its solid labor pool, its affordability compared with other parts of California and its access to Interstate 5.

It also has its hot and its cool areas economically – from Glenn County, with an 11 percent unemployment rate, to Nevada County, with its 3.4 percent jobless rate.

And the region’s key industries vary considerably, with high-tech concentrations, vast agricultural areas and a large timber company, Sierra Pacific Industries.

But if people start referring to the diverse area as one region – Upstate California – the campaign unveiled will be a success.

“If everybody starts using the name Upstate California, we’re doing a good thing,” said Berry.