We need to build the “New Kingsport Experience”

            As I have grown older, I find that I am less interested in “things” and more interested in “experiences.” I have become practical with the things that don’t really matter and prefer to focus on the things that do.

            When I was younger, I always seemed to “want” something. There was that car that I coveted. It usually took some time to get there, but my endgame was to “get there.” My first car was a bright yellow 1976 Pinto. It was OK transportation, but not what I wanted (by a long shot). When I graduated from West Point, I bought a Toyota Celica Black. It was a special upgraded version of the new model. I loved that car. I wrecked it, but ended up bringing a Chestnut Red BMW 320i back from my assignment in Germany. I really loved that car.

Sadly, now I drive a Prius. It is a practical car that fits nicely with my requirements. I am willing to take the jokes, but do drive my Ford F-150 truck to salvage some semblance of my manhood. I don’t need a luxury car because my lifestyle doesn’t need it.

This is indicative of how my life has changed. When I was younger, the “right stuff” mattered. Clothing, cars, and stereo systems (yes, that’s what we called them) were important.

Today, I would rather spend an afternoon on the golf course with one of my kids than anything else in the world. The clubs don’t matter; I can’t hit straight no matter the technology. The balls don’t matter; they end up in the woods. Being able to chat and share a beautiful afternoon with someone I love is more meaningful that anything else I can imagine.

In this sense, I think my children’s generation may be way ahead of me. It took fifty years to figure this out, and they seem to have grasped it right from the start. This is not to say, they are not status conscious. They would never be caught dead in the cheap sunglasses I typically wear…because I inevitably lose or break them. I still recall the horror when I watched a pair of Oakleys shoot off the dashboard and out the window as I took the curve at the on-ramp to John B. Dennis.

However, the Millennials are, for the most part, experiential. It is not information or things that are important unto themselves. It is the sensation they get from having them and what they feel when using them. An expensive high-tech mountain bike isn’t important for what it costs. It is valuable because of the experience of tearing down a steep trail and making the jump over the rocks without crashing. That is the rush!

My son has a GoPro waterproof camera. The videos of my kids hopping the wake on the lake is awesome. Moreover, it is the ability to share that feeling that is meaningful. A “selfie” clip as he flips through the air off a rope swing gives you the feeling of vertigo as the water is replace by the sky and back again. The camera is important for what it does, not for what it is.

This shared feeling capitalizes on what has been termed: FOMO-fear of missing out. Advertising geared towards Gen-Y is all about evoking the sense that if you don’t have a certain product, you will not be able to participate in the action. The ad doesn’t show the shoe from different angles and highlight the great price. It shows how cool you look (do they even use that term?) and how much fun you will have with your friends…who are also wearing them.

There is a lesson here for our community as well. What is the Kingsport Experience?

My Kingsport Experience was that this is a “great place to raise a family.” When my children were five years old they rode on a hay wagon in the Fourth of July parade. Priceless for them and me! I was there when they experienced triumph and loss on the soccer field. We collectively felt the emotion. I watched them grow through a fabulous, safe school system that prepared them for college. I didn’t always lock my door at home and never worried about it. I love this place.

However, that may not be the “experience” others see. For example we frequently laugh off the occasional stench downtown (there I said it). It is the smell of money and jobs to my generation. It is something that may make the experience of a Saturday night on Broad Street unpleasant for a younger crowd. Furthermore, raising a family may not be the priority for new business professionals being brought in to work at Eastman.

The question is not whether one view or the other is correct. It is a matter of perception. We each own our feelings and someone else isn’t going to talk us out of it. Unfortunately, we try to do just that in our efforts to market the community. It is absolutely the wrong tactic.

If we want to be relevant to the future, we have to create the “experience” the next generations wants to have. To do that, we must first figure out what that is. It is my distinct impression that our leadership has yet to understand the demographic shift that is underway or the way in which we need to market ourselves.

Perhaps our first step is to try to figure out what the “New Kingsport Experience” can be, then we will be able to map out a strategy for our future.

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