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Story By John Murray

The rebranding of the city of Waterbury has already landed a big fish (Amazon), has received a national marketing award and has exceeded Mayor Neil O’Leary’s expectations.

It’s Worxing.

O’Leary hired WORX, a graphic design and marketing company out of Prospect two years ago to attempt to rebrand the city, and the marketing agency came up with “The Waterbury” as a nod to a reliable pocket watch manufactured in the city a century ago, and distributed around the world. The pocket watch was named, The Waterbury.

Mayor O’Leary is delighted at the results so far. “We’re really astonished by the results of this marketing campaign. I’m really proud of the growth of our commercial properties. Amazon found out about that 150-plus acres on The Waterbury website. When you can bring in a company that can create 1000 jobs, really high paying jobs, Waterbury is going in the right direction.”

Waterbury City Hall was designed by Cass Gilbert 100 years ago.

As the longest continuously serving mayor in city history, O’Leary had been frustrated that outside perceptions of the city were negatively mired in past political scandals. Wherever he travelled in the past decade people would inevitably ask O’Leary how Waterbury was doing, and whether the city was still struggling.

“This happened everywhere,” O’Leary said. “In D.C., in Dallas, wherever I went there was a negative perception of Waterbury. Things have changed dramatically – for the better – and we needed to tell our story.”

The challenge was finding the best way to change the narrative about Waterbury, and O’Leary decided to launch a public-private marketing campaign to re-brand the city.

“We have an amazing story to tell. We were once the Brass Capitol of the World,” O’Leary said, “and although brass left, manufacturing continues to be the backbone of the economy. And the workforce has gotten better.”

Workers at Drew Marine have developed an innovative way to recycle water.

Through a collaboration with successful private businesses – Post University, Drew Marine, Waterbury Hospital and Saint Mary’s Hospital – the City of Waterbury hired WORX to re-imagine the city brand for the next three years.

The news of a marketing campaign costing nearly $700,000 was met with a large collective groan across social media platforms. Forget the marketing investment and fill in the potholes – city residents complained – plow the snow, fix playscapes and take care of basic necessities before worrying about the brand of the city. Those are interesting points, but the mission of the marketing and re-branding campaign is not to fix the city infrastructure, but to spark economic development by showcasing the opportunity for businesses to move to the city, which would increase the Grand List, and lower the tax burden for city residents.

Grant Copeland is the President of WORX and says he understands the skepticism from the citizenry, “for all the reasons you could write a book”, but marketing is focused on positive attributes to try and attract new customers. Copeland said the economic initiative is focused on getting to the root of the opportunity for businesses to come to Waterbury, and to re-educate through the power of positive stories.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, left, and WORX president Grant Copeland.

The first steps for WORX was extensive research, online and in focus groups. “We needed to find out what we have here,” Copeland said, “and to discover what work needed to be done.”

The city has a unique infrastructure, is located at the intersection of Route 8 and I-84, two hospitals, and has a skilled workforce and several options for higher education. Mayor O’Leary said the city’s financial health is solid, its bond rating is now AA, the grand list is growing, and a Zillow/Yelp survey just rated Waterbury the #1 most affordable suburb in America with a city feel.

Some interesting facts popped out of the research done by WORX – for example; Waterbury is ranked in the top 3% of the most diverse places to live in America. And the results of an online survey revealed that 34% of respondents had a positive impression of the city, 23% were neutral, and 43% were negative.

O’Leary knows it’s an uphill climb to change the perception of Waterbury, but he is determined to begin the process right now.

“We’re going in a great direction and the story needs to be told,” O’Leary said. “Despite the pandemic we’ve managed to keep the city moving forward.”

Copeland said two thirds of the marketing campaign is being financed by private money – successful local stakeholders that want to tell their story in an attempt to attract more businesses and companies to the city. During initial research for the project Copeland said extensive online searches about Waterbury produced negative sentiment and black eyes, but very little to be proud of.

“One of the things we are working on is to develop positive content about Waterbury that will pop up on search engines,” Copeland said. “We’re not trying to come up with a clever tag line, but to use the human stories of success and share why they have decided Waterbury is where they want to be.”

WORX launched a colorful, informative and interactive website at thewaterbury.com, and begins with the basic question – Why Waterbury? The answer they provide is visionary people, municipal stability, central location, growth initiatives, healthcare excellence, educational depth, manufacturing expertise, a connected workforce, year-round recreation, rich arts and culture, dining options, attractive real estate and the most affordable suburb in the United States. Each of these categories breaks out into detail with graphs and maps and information for prospective customers.

Commercial properties are listed for potential investors, job opportunities are listed, as are homes for sale and local events.

The website offers up an explanation of “The Waterbury” name. “It is a reference to the brass and clock-making industries of Waterbury’s past. When the two industries converged – with brass becoming a central component in locally-produced watches – Waterbury gained notoriety across the country, and around the world. At one point, nearly fifteen hundred of a certain pocket watch were being produced each day, a product which became universally known as a symbol of reliability. Its name? The Waterbury.”

The Waterbury was known throughout the world.

Traffic on thewaterbury.com is growing and both Copeland and O’Leary said that potential business opportunities are already developing as a result of the marketing campaign.

‘Things are going really well with the campaign,” O’Leary said in mid-January. “I’m thrilled.”

And to those who believe that this is not the time to showcase the city, Grant Copeland strongly disagrees.

“The opportunity is right now,” Copeland said. “Great things are already happening here, and by showcasing our successes we can have even more success, and move the city forward.”

Copeland said WORX used the story already unfolding in the city. “The research clearly says it’s the people and businesses and organizations and initiatives already happening in Waterbury, that are the most special thing that we can promote. As brand architect what do you think that tells me? Those are the puzzle pieces we already have right underneath our nose, hiding in plain sight. Almost 90% of city brands fail because of a lack of commitment. So what also is a hallmark of the city of Waterbury is the commitment to doing special things.”

During a press conference inside Waterbury City Hall in January celebrating The Waterbury winning a national award for its work Copeland said, “The Waterbury branding has gained notoriety on a national scale, recently being honored with an American Graphic Design Award by graphic design USA, which is one of the marketing and advertising industry’s most notable resources. But how did this become so successful? I think it boils down to four words, tell me a story.”

And the story keeps getting better and better everyday.

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