Just a few weeks ago, the Orange County Visitors Bureau launched a new campaign, inviting visitors to come see, taste, tune in to, and explore Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough.  A local print outlet took the CVB’s new marketing campaign to pose the question, “What makes Chapel Hill cool?” and a corollary question, “Has Chapel Hill lost its mojo?” 

It’s a question worth asking.  We want to have confidence in our brand’s strength and durability before we invest additional resources.  But I worry that the question shouldn’t be “Has Chapel Hill lost its mojo?” but rather “Has Chapel Hill lost its mojo ambassadors?”

As a native that loves welcoming people to Orange County from as close as the county next door and as far away as the other O.C., it breaks my heart to have someone come into the Chamber saying, “Hi.  I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for over a decade. I’m expecting visitors.  And I’m thinking about taking them to Raleigh.”

In response to its coverage of the Visitors Bureau’s request for additional funding, the editor of the Chapel Hill News asked the question about “What makes Chapel Hill cool?”  This list has countless entries for me and I hope to help formalize and promote this list. 

But I think it’s important to clarify a few things before we start making the list…

First: Touting Carrboro’s merit over Chapel Hill is entertaining because rivalries are fun, but they aren’t helpful in trying to promote our area.  Visitors don’t know where town limits are, and they certainly don’t know the ins and outs of sales tax distribution.  So it doesn’t matter if they pick Crooks Corner or Carrburritos, which are almost spitting distance from each other.  It just matters that we invite them here to Orange County and ask them to spend their money here in Orange County

Second: For those folks that did not have North Carolina history in fourth and eighth grade, the University of North Carolina was chartered in 1789, the first public university in the nation.   UNC employs 8,325 people and is the driving factor for 40% of the visitors that come to this area.  As a Carolina alum, I don’t understand when residents don’t recognize how being home to this world-class research university is one of the coolest things about Chapel Hill.  

Third: In reading the responses to Chapel Hill News’ editor’s question, the most disheartening answer was from the town’s current planning board chair.  She says we’re lacking imagination and warns against chain stores.  Claims like those ignore the innovation in our town –happening both on campus and off– and shows little faith in our incredible brand.  Having a few nationally branded stores where residents could purchase affordable goods does not do any damage to our brand; if anything, it helps recapture sales tax revenue lost to neighboring counties, and that revenue can be used to market our area to both visitors and relocating businesses. 

So I don’t think we’ve lost our mojo.  Be proud of Carrboro and how cool it is.  Tout the university and its innovation.  But whether you’re welcoming people to the “southern part of heaven” or to “the edge of the Triangle,” join me in being a mojo ambassador by saying, “Come to — and stay in — Chapel Hill,” one of the coolest places you’ll ever visit.