When the One World Trade Center building opens in the coming months, it will be the preeminent symbol of American resurgence — a towering reminder that American ingenuity will always bounce back bigger and better.
It might be shocking to hear, then, that there are roughly 320 companies and organizations worldwide that are using the World Trade Center name for economic benefit.
These companies are using one of America’s darkest hours, for all intents and purposes, as a brand.
The World Trade Center Association (WTCA), championed for over three decades by Guy Tozzoli, bought the naming rights to the World Trade Center thirty years ago for a mere $10. Since then, the WTCA has licensed the World Trade Center name to 322 organizations from Boston to Dubai that then turn around and use the license for exposure, networking and merchandising.
The purpose of the WTCA, a non-profit organization, is to foster prosperity through trade and investment, using a worldwide network of World Trade Centers as vessels. The first iterations of the WTC were the iconic Twin Towers built in 1973, and the WTCA took it from there.
Today, it costs $200,000 to become a member of the WTCA, with an annual $10,000 fee to continue licensing the name, according to the Roanoke Times. Companies and organizations can then put “World Trade Center” on the faces of their towers and offices. The obvious draw is the name recognition, as well as membership to a tightly connected network of WTCA organizations.
The merchandising aspect, however, is where the process enters a grey area.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (who sold the naming rights in 1973 and have been major financers of both World Trade Centers as well as the new tower) estimate that they will generate between $23 million and $28 million annually in revenue from merchandising the WTC brand.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that much of the value behind the brand recognition of the World Trade Center skyrocketed with the tragic events on September 11, 2001, according to various non-profit organizations familiar with the licensing process.
The attacks shook American resolve, exposed the country’s humanity and boldly challenged the United States as the world’s last superpower.
It hardly seems just that companies can exploit the “brand,” which reached unprecedented levels of recognition after suffering tragedy, to turn a profit.
But before moral uncertainty consumes the public psyche, we must remember why we’ve rebuilt the World Trade Center in the first place.
When One World Trade Center opens, it will be the defining symbol of the American phoenix, rising from its ashes. It will represent the very freedom that we all take for granted when pursuing wealth and happiness in a free economy: the very freedom that WTCA members enjoy when networking and merchandising worldwide.
There is a reason that back in 2005 at the unveiling of the new skyscraper, it was originally named the Freedom Tower. We would do very well to never forget that.