Interview with Victor Hoskins, Director, Arlington Economic Development

We asked Victor Hoskins, Director at Arlington Economic Development, to share his thoughts on some of the key trends affecting place branding in the USA and Canada, such as pro-active advocacy, positive citizen engagement and the challenge of reacting to negative publicity and policy.

CNP: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing place branding and marketing teams working for cities, states and places across the USA and Canada?

VH: I consider creating and maintaining a unique brand that differentiates your location from another that has similar community assets to be the biggest challenge. In addition, the new phenomenon of “hyper-attractive urbanized centres” is creating major challenges for our industry because topics like “gentrification, affordable housing and traffic congestion” are being placed front and center in these environments from outside elements and uninformed community members.


CNP: What do you believe are the emerging opportunities?

VH: For us, the innovation economy is really what we see as our future. Formerly known as a “government town,” Arlington always has had a large contingent of its workforce that is well-skilled in various technology sectors – usually in regards to the military. Now, many of those individuals, whether they’ve retired from or left military service, are becoming the leading players in that technology space – particularly in fields like AI, cybersecurity, big data, ed tech, and clean tech. The number of businesses in our region succeeding in those fields is really exciting.


CNP: What trends in place branding and marketing are you interested in exploring?

VH: How to communicate your values through your brand strategy.


CNP: What are the advantages for closer collaboration between place making and planning teams, tourism, and economic development teams?  

VH: While each team looks at the situation from a slightly different lens, at the end of the day, we’re all marketing places, and so it makes sense that we all work collaboratively toward that common goal. In our office, tourism is a division of economic development, so there is naturally extensive cross-collaboration, and we have a dedicated liaison to our BIDs and partnerships, who are primarily dedicated to placemaking.


CNP: Do you think it’s becoming more important for DMOs and EDOs to advocate for their role and their impact to politicians and citizens?  Why do you think that is?

VH: When a DMO or an EDO is extraordinarily successful today there is now a burden of responsibility to reach a general audience that was not required in the past.  Reaching an audience that heretofore was more concerned about jobs, economic prosperity and revenue for services.  Now outside parties are bringing in issues outside of this scope and creating confusion about success.


CNP: Do you think great neighbourhoods are of increasing importance for the place branding strategies of towns and cities?  And what do you think makes a great neighbourhood community?  

VH: Great neighborhoods are of increasing importance in creating and maintaining a jurisdiction’s brand.  The mixture of commercial and residential uses is being developed to a level of differentiation that did not exist in the past.  From LA to DC you can see this has had substantial ramifications for local prosperity and the feeling of being part of a great neighborhood.  A great neighborhood has a diversity of population, cultural service offerings, a mixture of using that include food service, entertainment, residential and commerce.


CNP: How has the publicity of the Amazon HQ2 bid affected economic development organisations’ approach to attracting investment?

VH: It really has changed the entire process of economic development. Besides the public nature of the HQ2 process, the RFP brought about unprecedented levels of collaboration and partnership, not just in our community (which was the ultimate winner of the HQ2 bid), but for communities around the country. We saw neighboring communities that had previously been competitors working together. We saw partnerships between economic development and education. There were new collaborations regionally. I think it really has changed the landscape of economic development.


CNP: What are the ingredients for success for cities competing to attract young talent?

VH: Arlington has one of the highest concentrations of well-educated young talent in the nation; nearly 40% of our population is made up of Millennials, and more than 70% of our workforce has at least a bachelor’s degree. We’re very fortunate in that we’re a community where that young talent wants to be; there are multiple housing and transportation options. There’s plenty of activity – from a huge selection of restaurants and bars to cultural activities, walking/biking trails and more.


CNP: Over-tourism and sustainability are two of the buzzwords in place branding at the moment – how do you feel DMOs need to adapt their strategies to meet these challenges?

VH: We need to think more broadly about our audience, how to reach them, how often we communicate with them and how we package our messages to be easily understood.


CNP: If you weren’t in your current role, is there a city or country anywhere else in the world that you’d love to work for?

VH: Yes, Lisbon, Portugal.

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