What comes to mind when you think of Westbrook?

Officials from the small city west of Portland are concerned that you’re not having kind thoughts.

A high crime rate, poor schools, bad press and the odor that once spewed from the paper mill were among the negative perceptions about Westbrook expressed by people who filled out a survey sent out by the city last month to assess its reputation.

But the smell from the mill is gone and high-tech businesses have moved in. There’s a 1,000-seat performing arts center and a campus of Husson University. Dining options have diversified, and the river where residents once didn’t dare dip their toes is turning into a destination for water sports. The question is how to make more people aware.

Bill Baker, the city’s director of business and community relations, calls it an “image challenge” – something that’s shared by other former mill towns in the state, such as Biddeford and Lewiston. And he’s on a mission to overcome it.

When asked about his impression of Westbrook, David Goldberg, a partner in the Portland marketing firm Kemp Goldberg, said not much jumped out at first. But after a minute, he listed many of the same attributes the city is trying to promote, even though he was not involved with the survey.

“It’s just a muddy image, perhaps, but probably not a hard thing to turn around given what (Westbrook) has going for it,” Goldberg said.

Having a burgeoning arts community and technology sector, along with a mill that was an instrumental part of the state’s paper industry, make it a place steeped in history and, at the same time, moving toward the future, said Goldberg.

“I think that’s a great place for a community to position itself around,” he said. “It’s kind of like bookends.”

The city plans to launch a marketing effort to inform residents of “Greater Westbrook” about what’s happening there, in order to get more visitors and businesses coming in. But city officials are first trying to figure out the most effective way to do that.

“We’re trying to do something substantive, not gimmicky” like a new logo or slogan, Baker said. He said there’s no budget for the campaign yet.

Although the city is doing the work in-house, Baker said, he consulted with marketing professionals who emphasized the importance of having data to help determine how to spend money to promote the city. That’s where the survey comes in.

As of last week, the city had received about 400 responses to the 15-question poll, which will be available to take on the city’s website through early December.

Most of the respondents said they were fairly familiar with the city and many had been there within the past month, but for some it had been years, if not decades – in one case, not since 1959.

They answered multiple-choice questions about what recent events they knew were in Westbrook, what activities they’d be likely to do there and what image – the Sappi Paper mill, the Presumpscot River, the facade of Idexx Laboratories or farmland – best represented the city. Most chose the mill.

They also gave written answers to what words describe the city, what they’ve heard other people say about Westbrook and how it compares with neighboring communities.

In addition to repeated references to problems with the schools, drugs and the leadership, there were positive aspects that came up multiple times.

People praised the affordability of the city, its convenient location and its eateries, such as the Frog & Turtle Gastro Pub and Catbird Creamery.

Although some described the city as struggling or in transition, others characterized its ongoing change as growing, improving or having potential.

Despite the less-than-desirable associations with the city, Golberg said, its reputation isn’t in crisis and it has marketable assets. The challenge, he said, is to “somehow make the positive things more important.”