All regions have an official or unofficial “brand,” a consultant told a group of Franklin County community leaders Tuesday. The only question is whether leaders actively try to shape the reputation their community has, or let those impressions form naturally.

Franklin County community leaders gathered Tuesday at the Poland Springs bottling plant in Kingfield with the goal of shaping those impressions, as they worked out initial plans to brand the county’s high peaks region to appeal to tourists and prospective residents.

The branding session was led by consultant Jim Cox, based in New York City. His consulting service, he said, is to teach the community leaders to make decisions in the context of the community’s brand.

“A brand is not a logo. It’s about a lasting connection between an entity and an audience,” Cox said.

Cox said he plans to take the ideas from Tuesday’s brainstorming session, distill them down and present his work to the group two weeks from now.

The 20 attendees said they were hopeful the marketing process would highlight the region’s assets to a broader audience, build tourism over time and influence families considering moving.

Norm Simard, human resource manager at Verso Paper in Jay, said his company has a vested interest in branding the region because its outdoor appeal is an integral part of recruiting engineers and other professionals to Verso.

“When we want to recruit an engineer and retain them, we turn to the outdoor interests in the area. People might work at Verso; but after they leave for the day, they go out and live in the area, and we want this region to appeal to them,” he said.

The attendees broke into four groups and considered what the region’s appeal is to families, entrepreneurs, those seeking outdoor adventure and those interested in moving to the area.

Its appeal to families, one of the small groups agreed, is the sense of adventure families feel when they enjoy outdoor recreation together.

Lisa Standish, owner of the Mountain Village Farm Bed and Breakfast in Kingfield, said her guests are drawn to the high peaks because northern Maine has an organic feel to it and is “off the beaten path.”

“It satisfies a yearning to connect to nature … to take off the suit and tie,” she said.

Cynthia Orcutt, co-owner of the Schoolhouse Gallery in Kingfield, said families are expressing themselves when they visit the Maine mountains by saying that they may be roughing it, but that’s part of the values they want to teach their children.

“It maybe makes them feel a little different from a family that might normally go to, say, Disney,” she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 kschroeder@centralmaine.com