Shakespeare said a rose would smell as sweet by any other name but, apparently, when it comes to airports and marketing the region they serve, the name matters a great deal.
A renewed effort to effectively market Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA), and the three-city region around it, is the main reason that, on Tuesday, Dec. 19, the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority voted unanimously to change the name of that airport to Central North Carolina International Airport.
The airport authority voted unanimously to put the new name into effect starting Jan. 1 for the airport that serves Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and the surrounding area.
An airport name change has been a matter of discussion behind the scenes for about half a year in confidential conversations between elected officials, area economic development leaders and some other area movers and shakers – but, until this week, there was no public awareness those talks were going on, and the “Central North Carolina International” moniker was kept tightly under wraps until Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, who serves on the airport authority board, gave the big reveal.
The medium-sized meeting room was perhaps more packed than it’s ever been for an airport board meeting. There were way too many high-profile people in the room to list, but that list includes the mayors of Greensboro and High Point, as well as Joines, and the chairman and former chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. Throw into that high-powered mix just about every print and broadcast media outlet in Guilford and Forsyth counties and it meant a packed house for the highly anticipated unveiling.
Before Joines announced the new name by reading the resolution, Piedmont Triad Airport Authority Board Chairman Steve Showfety, the president of Koury Corporation, explained the reasoning behind the name change.
He said this area has a great opportunity at this moment to use its prime location to its advantage. He added that he and others are very optimistic about the prospects for the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, as well as the new megasite under construction at the airport, and he stressed that the central location of this area was a big selling point.
Showfety said that, during a discussion at a Piedmont Triad Partnership meeting in August – held about the same time as the Wyndham Championship golf tournament – it became clear that “Piedmont Triad” had some identity issues. He also said it became clear that one huge advantage the airport and the area had is its centrality – “its longitude and latitude.”
The Piedmont Triad Partnership is a regional economic development group and, at that meeting earlier this year, Showfety said he heard the message regarding the identity problems of this region loud and clear from those economic development officials.
He said local leaders are now attempting to take advantage of the big opportunity the area has by “collectively trying to reinvent ourselves and present the assets to the rest of the country and the larger world.”
He also said that, in 1993, he read a Business Week article about the growth of “the Boom Belt” – the thriving stretch between Washington, DC, and Atlanta. Showfety said he realized at that time that this area was at the “dead center” of that belt, and he added the area is also nearly dead center between Raleigh and Charlotte. He said the word “Central” in the new airport name will help elevate that positive quality and get it into people’s minds.
“We have, as a campaign over the last five years, had a refresh, refocus, renew – and, yes, if necessary, reinvent philosophy here at PTI,” Showfety said.
He added that two main goals in recent years have been to improve customer experience and turn the airport into “a platform for economic growth” in the area.
At the Dec. 19 meeting, airport authority member Jim White said, “This is one of the most exciting and worthwhile endeavors that this board has ever undertaken. I truly believe it is going to be of benefit to everyone sitting around this table in our marketing efforts and in our identity – who we are.”
He also read out some of the “naming framework criteria” that the board members used as guidelines when picking the new name.
“The airport serves a large region with many distinct communities and therefore cannot be named for any one of those entities,” White stated.
Likewise, he said, there was agreement among board members that the airport shouldn’t be named for any single individual.
“We need a regional brand,” he said. “The airport will not be named for any one person. There are too many worthy individuals, and fairness dictates not selecting any one individual above another.”
White added that it “misses the point” to name the airport after one person because this change is meant to make the region easily identifiable.
“The goal of this initiative is to create a direct, effective clear brand that indicates the airport’s location in its name,” White said.
He also explained why the word “international” would remain in the name even though currently there are no international flights to or from the airport.
“The term ‘international’ will be retained in the name,” White read, “as it accurately describes the availability of customs and border patrol on this airport, and the ability to fly internationally from this airport, even if there are no scheduled [international] air carrier services at this time.”
Showfety joked that those guidelines “in essence eliminated the ‘Intergalactical’ name that we were going to use alternatively.”
Showfety said that having “Central” in the airport name would be a big improvement.
“We find that ‘central’ is a self-defining term,” he said.
Almost exactly 30 years ago to the day, the airport authority changed the airport’s name from Greensboro/High Point/Winston Salem Airport to Piedmont Triad International.
After the meeting, there were a lot of smiles and congratulations. One attendee who asked not to be named said he’d heard a story years ago about the last time PTI A had changed its name. He said that, right after that change, a flight was coming into the airport and the captain announced the arrival time for “Piedmont Triad International Airport,” and there was a minor panic on the plane as the entire planeload recognized at once that they had all gotten on the wrong plane since they intended to fly to the Greensboro/ High Point/ Winston-Salem Airport, not this Piedmont Triad Airport, wherever that place was. There was a lot of frantic buzzing on the call attendant button, he said, before the name change was explained to passengers.
Central North Carolina International Airport Executive Director Kevin Baker said after the meeting that there had been some other names kicked around; however, he said, he didn’t want to mention what those were because some people might say they like one or more of the other names better.
Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen said after the board meeting that he was extremely pleased with the new name. He said it will be a lot easier on economic development officials when they talk to prospects about moving their business here.
“Piedmont Triad is geological, but Central North Carolina is geographical,” Christensen said.
Showfety said area economic developers have to spend time explaining where the Piedmont Triad is located when that time could be used extoling its virtues. Several airport officials said that, when they’re trying to market this area to those in California or other distant parts of the country, they say it is the Piedmont Triad and the response they usually get is, “Oh, where is that?”
But everyone, they say, should be able to figure out where Central North Carolina International Airport is.
Baker said that, at this point in time, he didn’t have any good estimates of the price tag for changing the signage, airport stationary and associated costs. He said those costs would become clearer in the coming months.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson was asked later if participants in the name change were asked to keep the matter secret.
“No,” Branson said, “we were asked to keep it confidential.”