The Queen City of Reinvention: Local Heart, Global Aspirations

I know this place well. It’s in my blood, really. My family has a long history of running their own independent companies in Manchester, New Hampshire. In fact, our agency corporate headquarters is located in the same building that long ago housed my grandfather and his family partners’ athletic shoe factory — and later, my parents’ original sporting goods store. It’s a deeply personal connection — heck, one of our conference rooms is the exact spot where my father asked my grandfather for his approval to marry my mother.

Throughout my formative years, I spent countless hours downtown at my parents’ store. I gained invaluable insight into the business world firsthand from both of my parents — timeless lessons that still carry weight in today’s marketplace. The shop was located across the street from the SNHU Arena — only there was no arena back then. Instead, it was a revolving door of retail stores, typically with a half empty parking lot and errant shopping carts floating across the pavement.

My high school was on the other side of town, across the river from a massive block of mostly vacant and rundown brick buildings called the Manchester Millyard. Manchester was still New Hampshire’s biggest city back then. But it still never felt like there was much to do. If you wanted to catch a concert, you had to zip down I-93 and head into Boston. The perception for many of us at that time was that if you had big aspirations, you had to leave to realize them.

However, this place has changed since then — or as Politico will tell you, it has become a “new millennium marvel.” For example, PillPack, which is located in one of those formerly rundown mill buildings, was recently purchased by Amazon. Oracle purchased our former client Dyn, who was also headquartered in a formerly rundown mill building. And the U.S. Department of Defense recently issued $80 million in federal funding to the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI), which is also headquartered in — you guessed it — one of those old mill buildings.

Flashback to ten years ago, and it would have been unthinkable that major publications like The New York Times, Politico, Forbes, Inc. and Adweek would run articles recognizing Manchester as a booming innovation hub. But, here we are.

How did this happen? I’ve come to the realization that it’s been through a confluence of deliberate intention, timing, and hard work.

For starters, technology and communications advancements have allowed places like New Hampshire to escape its previous “bubble” perception and get on more level playing ground with major cities. Beyond that, New Hampshire has various other perks to offer that large cities can’t match, and there’s a wide population of creative talent who prefer our proximity to a variety of different activities — mountains, ocean, lakes, cities.

New Hampshire is also a cost-effective option to start and operate a business, especially considering there’s no sales or income tax. Fortunately, this has allowed our state to be in the right place at the right time for a handful of industry leaders to set up shop. When we first started working with Dyn, they had about a dozen employees. We helped them make noise in the tech space as they grew and attracted a world-class client list, ultimately helping to set them up for growth and eventual acquisition.

For me, it was important to work and live where I chose to, not where I had to. After going to school in Boston and working in the ad industry big leagues at an agency largely associated with Paris and New York City, I was ready to get back to where my family was as opposed to moving further away. I didn’t want to burnout on Madison Avenue. I set out to build something back in my community where it would ultimately mean more and be more fulfilling on a personal level.

To fulfill my professional aspirations, I knew it would be a challenge — New Hampshire isn’t exactly top-of-mind when big brand CMOs are thinking of potential agency partners. I knew building a modern marketing agency here would require creating our own opportunities. I also knew the people and attitude of New Hampshire would help create these opportunities — we have an element of grit, hard work, and not being afraid to roll up our sleeves to figure things out. Our state motto is “Live Free or Die” for a reason. And we’ve been doing just that.

When I first decided to make the jump back to New Hampshire in 2005, I was betting on our commitment to this independent spirit to ultimately win out over the realities of the workforce and infrastructure here. Candidly, it has not been an overnight success, but we’ve experienced quite an evolution over the past 13 years. We’ve updated our service offering to better suit the evolving marketplace. We’ve launched our own in-house Emmy Award-winning video production offering. We’ve relocated our HQ and opened new spaces in Boston and Western Massachusetts — including a new 6,000 square-foot content playground. We’ve diversified our overall business, helping to run our own proof companies including Iron & Air Magazine, YORK Athletics Mfg., and Noble & Cooley Drum Company. And we’ve incubated the Rock On Foundation — a nonprofit that helps to inspire the next generation of creatives by supporting opportunities in the arts and athletics. All of this, along with an incredibly talented and creative team happy to stay, work, and play (or commute!) to New Hampshire, has helped us thrive in an ever-changing industry.

Additionally, we’re in a fortunate position as the agency of record for the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs. This client relationship allows us to serve the state we work and live in — since our relationship began in 2016, we’ve played a key role in marketing the state for tourists, workforce and businesses alike. Talk about home state pride.

One of the benefits of operating in a smaller community is accessibility. There’s truly a feeling of being in this together among the different businesses in the area, and I value the relationships we’ve built with leaders who are making waves on a global level. There’s definitely a shared mindset here from folks looking to leave their mark on their respective industries.

As time has passed and we’ve seen businesses mature, the impact spans beyond their own corporate walls too. Rising tides don’t only just raise all ships, but they also lay a blueprint for success. Seeing companies succeed here is proof of viability and inspiration for the next generation. What’s more, these highly innovative companies will inevitably lead to spin-off companies as their own talent continues to grow and evolve. All of this helps nourish the ecosystem here.

Simply put, it’s a very exciting time for our city. Manchester has a rich history, one that’s included times of prosper and declines. The city was booming throughout the Industrial Revolution, serving as a textile manufacturing hub — Levi’s denim actually originated here. As that industry transformed and shipped overseas, Manchester took a hit. This cyclical nature is not unique to our city, but it’s something we’re all aware of. Our resilience is what has helped push things onward and upward.

To me, the ultimate measure of success is if you can leave a place in better condition than when you found it. So, as New Hampshire continues to trend in the right direction, we’ll maintain a commitment and willingness to evolve with the times. By understanding our past, we can build for the future — allowing us to continue to work and live where we choose, right here in New Hampshire.

Travis York is the President and CEO of GYK Antler, a modern marketing agency for evolving brands. Travis also co-founded GYK Antler’s in-house, Emmy-winning video production arm, Big Brick Productions. He’s also the CEO of Iron & Air, an internationally distributed media publication about motorcycles and the places they take us. Iron & Air was acquired by GYK Antler in 2016. Travis also co-founded YORK Athletics Mfg., a performance footwear and apparel brand continuing his family business legacy that started in 1946. He’s also an investor and advisor for Noble & Cooley, a 7th generation high-end custom drum company played by the most badass musicians on the planet. He stays involved with the community as the President of the Board of Directors for the Rock On Foundation, and as the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for Stay Work Play New Hampshire.
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