After having done the necessary research to pinpoint the best attributes of southern Vermont towns like Brattleboro and Wilmington, as well as the unique challenges that each one faces, business leaders throughout the region are now focused on coming up with a brand identity to market this area to the outside world.

Last week, Atlas Advertising CEO Ben Wright held a meeting at the Wilmington Town Offices, where he discussed how to cultivate and grow a message based around promoting the southern part of the state. The firm had been contracted last March to help develop a brand and marketing mechanism through a $100,000 grant as part of the Southern Vermont Sustainable Marketing Project.

This project is being given high priority in economic mitigation plans for the impending closure of Vermont Yankee and as a vital part of the Southern Vermont Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to be released next month. The CEDS project was initiated to address the trend of declining population and economic vitality the region has experienced the last few years, which likely will be worse when Vermont Yankee closes in the fourth quarter of 2014.

These current and future challenges are too big for any one community to tackle on its own. That's why it's all the more important for businesses and town leaders throughout the region to work together.

"It's not a competition," said Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanne Erenhouse. "Together, we're stronger and we have more sources to offer to our people."

That much is obvious, but developing one brand identity to encompass all of the different communities in southern Vermont won't be easy. On the one hand you have "The One and Only Brattleboro" with its vibrant arts community, and then you have the ski and snowmobile culture of the Deerfield Valley area. And throughout the entire area you have the quaint gift shops, farmers' markets, maple sugar houses and cheese companies to promote.

As Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation Economic Development Director Laura Sibilia said, "The point of Vermont is the individuality So squashing all the brands within it would be defeating what we're doing."

But Wright assured last week's gathering that it is possible to create one "umbrella" brand that is compatible with the existing brands of the different communities. The goal, he explained, is to focus on the positive attributes these communities have in common, such as the quality of life, ability to access government in a way that is not possible in larger states, coming tax credits to Wilmington and Dover offering marketing assistance, and the proximity to New York City and Boston. He said it's important to make the marketing campaign about bringing people, not companies, and it should promote the region's fierce independence and independent identities.

We have high hopes that with so many talented and creative people from throughout the region working together, instead of against each other, that a brand identity for southern Vermont can be found to help promote the entire region as well as the unique qualities that make each community so special and attractive.