- By GILLIAN GRAHAM

Staff Writer

The three largest communities in York County are branding themselves with catchy slogans that city leaders hope will attract new economic development and show the cities in a positive light.

Sanford, which will officially become a city when its new charter takes effect Jan. 1, is looking to pin down a logo and tag line to market the community as it courts new businesses.

Biddeford, Saco, the chamber of commerce and an economic development group teamed up to market the twin cities as an area with the tag line: “Biddeford + Saco, Saco + Biddeford: No matter how you say it.”

Lewiston-Auburn has used its slogan, “It’s Happening Here,” since 2004 and is in the process of evaluating the brand to ensure it still represents the twin cities. Calvin Rinck, marketing director for the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, said branding can be an effective way to draw attention to the community if it truly represents the city and is used as part of a wider marketing campaign.

“All branding initiatives must have a basic, undeniable truth behind them. You can’t have something that people won’t buy into,” Rinck said.

Sanford officials are hoping residents will buy into a branding initiative intended to draw attention to the town’s infrastructure, ongoing economic development and quality of life. Residents are now voting on two tag line options: “Explore. Create. Grow.” and “Great for business. Great for life.”

“Sanford is working diligently to bring more recognition to its achievements and attract new businesses,” said Town Manager Steven Buck. “It’s a very competitive market out there. We’re trying to delineate ourselves from the pack.”

Sanford residents and businesses will choose between two logo and tag line combinations developed by Nancy Marshall Communications of Augusta. Each tag line sits below the words “Sanford Maine” in a simple logo accented with a splash of color. Ballots must be cast online or at Town Hall by 9 p.m. Dec. 17.

The idea of branding Sanford has been kicking around for years, but took shape when the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council hired Nancy Marshall Communications this year. The firm developed the slogan after touring Sanford and reviewing input provided by residents through focus groups. Fran Libbey, executive director of Sanford Downtown Legacy, said involving residents is essential because “you can’t sell the brand unless the people here believe in it.”

“People (outside of town) don’t know what Sanford is. We were known for a long time as a mill town, but even when the mills closed we had a lot to offer,” she said. “We’ve grown in other ways.”

Jim Nimon, executive director of the growth council, said reaction in town to the proposed logos has been positive.

“A lot of folks know what we have here and they want the rest of Maine, the country and the world to know what’s going on,” Nimon said. “Sanford, Maine, is about to take off. I think there’s a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm in the community right now.”

Biddeford and Saco also are looking to capitalize on economic development opportunities and community enthusiasm by joining together to draw attention to the area. The economic development directors from both cities, Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce and Biddeford-Saco Area Economic Development Corp. were involved in the branding initiative, which was developed by Arnett Muldrow & Associates of South Carolina.

The cities and two organizations will use the plus sign from the slogan to design complementary logos. The tag line can be altered slightly to add words such as, “One dynamic community no matter how you say it.”

Craig Pendleton, executive director of the chamber of commerce, said the branding initiative is an important step toward the two cities working together to attract new businesses, which benefits everyone. The new slogan also could re-energize community pride, he said.

“We feel it, but we don’t talk about it,” he said. “I think we have a pretty loud horn to toot.”

It is important for Biddeford and Saco to show the private sector not only that the two cities are working together, but that residents are invested in the community, said Daniel Stevenson, Biddeford’s economic development director. So far, the response from the community to the new slogan has been positive, he said.

“Not everyone will buy in, but a lot of people will say this is a move in the right direction,” Stevenson said.

Rinck, from the Lewiston-Auburn council, said economic development can be attributed in part to branding and marketing, but it’s hard to quantify. Historic mills are being redeveloped for mixed use, small businesses are taking a foothold and 10 new restaurants have opened in the last year, proving economic development “is happening here,” he said.

“The community really speaks for itself,” he said. “This is just a message to help project that positive image.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian