Good-bye 'Rust Belt,' hello 'Fresh Coast'

July 26, 2012

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (middle) speaks to folks following his participation on region cooperation on Wednesday in Chicago.

A push is underway to rebrand the region to take advantage of its ties to Lake Michigan.

And while we know Chicago’s nice, this area of the Midwest has an image problem nationally. The term "Rust Belt" doesn’t help.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says that phrase has to go.

“I think it’s time that we as a region promote America’s 'Fresh Coast' because that is who we are,” Barrett said to applause. He spoke to more than 300 business and civic executives attending a luncheon hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Council of Chicago at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Barrett was there to promote cooperation between the Milwaukee, Chicago and Gary metro area.

Barrett said the term 'Rust Belt' wasn't developed by folks from the Midwest. He says the region needs to define itself.

“I think a big part of this is how we view ourselves,” Barrett said.

The idea was well received by those in attendance. Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson says cooperation is key.

"We recognize that Chicago is the anchor, but we also know Gary has a lot to offer, from our lakefront, to industry, to the Gary-Chicago International Airport," Freeman-Wilson said. "If all three cities commit to work together, there's a real competitive advantage there."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was scheduled to attend but got caught up at a Chicago City Council meeting and missed the event.

Nonetheless, marketing executive Debra Vilchis says she likes the idea of an image makeover. But she isn’t feeling the term … Fresh Coast.

“I think it’s soap or deodorant. Fresh is not a word to describe a region or an area,” said Vilchis, who's chief executive officer of Fishman Public Relations in Northbrook.

“And, it sounds too much like French toast," she added.

Whatever name is chosen, she said, the region will have to work to live up to it.