As cases and hospitalizations rise, there is no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah recently explained, “pandemic fatigue” is real and here to stay.

One way to overcome the burnout is to look on the bright side. The coronavirus has become a tragedy of a lifetime, but we must find the silver lining. Here’s one: Shuttered by COVID-19 restrictions, cities like Boston and New York are losing residents to non-traditional places, and their loss has become Portland’s gain. During the pandemic, Maine has seen an influx of people aged 24 to 35, bringing much-needed energy and excitement to the nation’s oldest state.

Eyeing an opportunity, the privately funded workforce development group Live and Work in Maine has ramped up its efforts to attract young professionals to Portland and other parts of the state. Of course, Maine has already become an attractive destination for millennials, but the pandemic is accelerating a demographic shift that will benefit our economy in the long run.

While tragic, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed the need for municipal branding front and center. Across Maine, more cities and towns need to promote themselves, as they compete for new residents and build economies for the future. Cities and towns need to be “out there,” so people “from away” understand the benefits associated with a Maine lifestyle.

Only by branding itself can a city or town position itself as an attractive place to live for singles, families and retirees. Municipal branding can establish a given location as a destination for private investment and economic development. But it also transcends business: Self-promotion attracts visitors who care about culture – from learning about the history of a neighborhood to visiting a museum or exploring bars, cafes and restaurants.

Do you want to position your city as “green”? Then promote your efforts to become more sustainable. Do you want to applaud your town’s parks and recreational activities? Then explain how they set your town apart.

Create an eye-catching logo. Produce a new tagline that is informative and welcoming. By marketing themselves, Maine’s cities and towns can generate the online buzz that gets people talking and visiting and eventually living in them.

Believe it or not, municipal branding also benefits those who already live here. Even we may learn more about a city or town because of a promotional initiative. Such branding can increase the sense of pride among current residents, strengthening communal bonds and fostering a greater sense of togetherness. Municipal branding can leave locals thinking, “Oh yeah, this is a cool place to live.”

In my agency’s early days, we worked with the town of Madison to promote their economic diversification from a paper mill town. That branding helped the town attract Backyard Farms, which remains Madison’s largest employer today. More recently, our work with the city of Saco helped describe the city’s friendly atmosphere, and local residents took notice. The city’s brand ambassadors imbued the rest of the community with joy and optimism. The benefits of municipal branding are wide-ranging, and we continue to work with cities and towns to help them uncover their greatest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a case study in crisis communications, the coronavirus also presents Maine’s cities and towns with an unprecedented opportunity. Demographic trends are moving in our favor. Now more than ever, people in urban hubs are considering a move elsewhere – from Saco and South Portland to Madison and Carrabassett Valley.

We need to seize that opportunity. But we can do it only by promoting Maine’s strengths – what makes Maine the Maine we know and love. Municipal branding will be the difference between success and failure.


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