Five Things your Economic Vitality Committee can do Today to Support Downtown

In my Virginia Main Street wanderings and conversations with directors I’ve been hearing a common refrain – “What should our Economic Vitality committee be doing?” A thought provoking question that I am sure goes unasked more often than asked. As fate would have it I recently participated in a Hillary Greenberg webinar on supporting small businesses that provided me with a “lightbulb” moment. Sometimes our boards and committees get caught up in thinking big and miss some of the small, every day, right-in-front-of-your-nose kinds of things that could yield big results for the district.

    1. Is your downtown business friendly? The EV committee can review municipal codes, fees, permit processes and timelines – anything that pertains to establishing or growing a business in the Main Street district. Identify anything that would be a detriment to starting a business or fixing a building then work with the municipality on a making the code friendlier to small business.
    2. Help new businesses navigate the permit process. Now that the EV committee has a thorough understanding of all of the local hoops to jump through to open a business downtown, turn that information into a step-by-step guide for new business owners.
    3. Survey retailers and business owners. In person, with a flyer, online – ask the questions. What would help you to improve your business? Have some check boxes –
      • website development?
      • access to capital?
      • cooperative advertising?
      • loan pool?
      • new signage?
    4. Hold Retailer Round Tables. Use those survey responses to generate topics! One month bring in a marketing guru to discuss website content. The next month (or quarter) have the Promotions committee members come to talk about, and get feedback on, upcoming retailing events. Bring in an accountant to give a Quickbooks lesson. Respond to the retailer’s needs to help them grow their businesses.
    5. Create a Mentorship Network. Every district has those retailers and restaurateurs who are knocking it out of the park. Set up a network of successful business owners to work one-on-one with those that are struggling.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are ideas that can be quickly assigned and implemented by a motivated EV committee that can make a real difference on the ground.

Does your EV committee do something innovative to improve downtown? We want to hear about it!

Advertisements

Main Street and Wine; a Great Pairing

Virginia’s thriving wine industry is boosting the state’s economy and local Main Street districts alike with a total impact of approximately $1.37 billion annually, according to a newly released economic impact study. This figure is an increase of 82 percent from the last study conducted in 2010.

“…one of our top agriculture goals was to make Virginia the preeminent East Coast destination for wine and winery tourism, and I am pleased our efforts are helping make this a reality,” said Governor McAuliffe. “This new study shows that this growth is being driven by small wineries, which demonstrates that the increased rural economic development is truly beneficial to local communities.”

The report showed that from 2010 and 2015, the number of wineries increased 35 percent, from 193 to 261. The number of full-time equivalent jobs at wineries and vineyards saw a 73 percent increase, from 4,753 to 8,218. Wages from jobs at wineries and vineyards increased 87 percent during the same time period as well, from $156 million, to $291 million.

Tourism to Virginia wineries also showed impressive growth. The number of people visiting wineries grew by 39 percent, from 1.6 million visitors in 2010 to 2.25 million visitors in 2015. At the same time, wine-related tourism expenditures grew dramatically from $131 million to $188 million, a significant 43 percent increase.

Culpeper’s Hoptober Fest 2016

Wine and Virginia’s downtowns make a great pairing.  Culpeper Renaissance Inc. expanded their wildly successful craft beverage festival to twice a year and the downtown features several shops that sell local craft beverages, Culpeper Cheese Company and Vinosity.  In Staunton eonophiles can visit Yelping Dog for a their wine fix, and don’t miss Saturday tastings at Vintages by the Dan in Danville. However it is done, Main Street recognizes the local economic impacts of partnering with regional craft beverage producers.

Check out the full 2015 Economic Impact Study of Wine and Wine Grapes on the Commonwealth of Virginia and don’t forget to visit the Virginia Wine Marketing Office for more information on the industry statewide.

Can “Open Late” increase “Shop Local?”

ClosedSignIt’s an old problem and a pervasive one. In Main Street districts nationwide, small business owner’s are reluctant to be open late or on the weekends. As a consequence those who work 9-5 jobs outside of the district are unable to shop local. A recent Wyoming Business Report article takes a look at how Main Street businesses’ hours of operation could be a catalyst for shifting economic progress.

Store hours come up in conversations with Main Street advocates across the state and nationwide.  It’s a discussion topic that often ends with a collective sigh.  It’s a challenge to convince independent business owners to change, let alone an entire consumer group.

Writer Joel Funk highlights solutions from several Wyoming downtown professionals and the National Main Street Center’s Matt Wagner.  Business owners need people downtown to make it worth their while to stay open and, equally true, shoppers need businesses to be open to make it worth their while to come downtown.  A successful shift of store hours is reliant upon a relationship between the owner and consumer, encouraged by the local Main Street program’s market awareness and perseverance.

70% of all consumer spending (both locals and visitors) takes place after 6 p.m.  Tourism specialist Roger Brooks suggests starting the shift by working with businesses to stay open on Friday and Saturday until 7 p.m. the first year, then add additional days as merchant confidence and consumer habits change.

Be that catalyst to shift economic progress.  Start the conversation!

 

Innovative Models for Main Street Businesses

161115-innovative-business-models

Airstream Beauty Boutique, Harrisonburg, VA

In August of 2016 a local beauty boutique opened in Harrisonburg’s Main Street district in an unusual and fantastic location, a 1975 Airstream Land Yacht.  Airstream Beauty Boutique owner Irina Dovganetskiy needed a small space that would allow her to test the market and grow her business – handmade beauty products using natural and toxic-free ingredients.  She wished to belong to a community of small businesses on Main Street but, without an available downtown storefront, Irina had to dream up a new way of doing business.

Clever entrepreneurs have an opportunity to think outside the box and inside a truck, trailer, or any space with a critical mass of customers and a growing market.  Recently on the Orton Family Foundation’s Cornerstones blog, rural economy expert Becky McCray shared six ways for small businesses to consider doing business in small towns:

  1. Pop-ups – temporary businesses that may last from just one day to several months.
  2. Trucks and trailers – not just for food businesses any longer, service and retail businesses are catching on.
  3. Business-in-a-business – sharing space with several different businesses under one roof.
  4. Tiny business villages – extra-small businesses in tiny buildings located together as a temporary village in an empty lot or green space.
  5. Rural-sourcing – an online marketplace offers business owners to live in rural communities, but reach a global market.
  6. Omni-local – local bricks-and-mortar shops can use e-commerce to take orders online and on-the-go mobile sites, and even monthly subscription boxes.

Could a mobile business set up shop in your downtown district without delays?  What trends can your Main Street program embrace now to nurture a thriving market place?

Shop Local, Support Local with HuTerra and Virginia Main Street

Manassas-2.25x4-final2

Travel Planner Ad, Southern Living, December 2016

There’s no better time to visit Main Street then the holidays. Winter celebrations bring revelers together to enjoy light shows, caroling and special shopping experiences with local merchants. There is a magic to shopping on Main Street that simply doesn’t exist at the mall. We can feel good about our shopping because keeping the cash register ringing at these local stores not only benefits the shop owner but the entire local economy.

This holiday season those benefits are multiplied. From November 15 to December 31, 2016, Virginia Main Street, in partnership with the HuTerra Foundation, will promote both shopping local on Main Street and supporting local nonprofits.  HuTerra is a great supporter of Main Street organizations with a goal to connect small businesses to the community by increasing customer traffic via their mobile app, My HuTerra, available for iOS or Android.

Download the My HuTerra app, pick your favorite nonprofit, and play the “Holidays on Main” game.  When you visit the local merchants at participating Virginia Main Street communities during the holidays, simply “check in” for a chance to win a gift basket or $5000 for your favorite nonprofit.  By shopping locally you can help HuTerra give away $50,000 to nonprofits throughout Virginia!

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another. – Charles Dickens

 Learn more and download My HuTerra >>

 

Make Your Downtown an Easy Target for New Business

Why should an entrepreneur choose your downtown for a new location? 

Selling your community to prospective entrepreneurs is challenging without the information they need to make location decisions. Throughout the last few years, Kansas’ Emporia Main Street refined an attractive and easily updateable business investment guide to help make the choice that much easier.  The guide sells the community and gives prospects the confidence to move forward quickly.

Executive Director Casey Woods, Emporia Main Street, says, “The Business Investment Guide has a tremendous impact on our ability to focus business and community development in a strategic, sustainable manner. Since the development of the guide, Emporia Main Street has been able to more effectively partner with a variety of individuals that now know how to invest in our downtown area, and the results of the implementation of the Business Investment Guide are significant. Downtown Emporia has had $48 million dollars in reinvestment in the last seven years (which is fairly significant for rural Kansas) and the Business Investment Guide played a significant role in the redevelopment and recruitment process.”

Emporia Main Street crafted a simple formula for the guide, Inspiration + Information + Presentation = Entrepreneurs and Progress:

BIG

Emporia Main Street, Kansas Business Investment Guide

Inspiration: Communicate current market opportunities with sales leakage and demographic information and support the data with the downtown vision, examples of successful Main Street projects and their economic impacts.

Information: Connect entrepreneurs to your local assets, like the available business incentives; maps showing pedestrian paths and business locations using color-coded maps; a full event calendar and statistics about attendance; facts about the local workforce; and professional resources and social outlets.

Presentation: Craft a sales pitch using clever titles that double as benefit statements and design the final guide to be attractive and inviting, then promote digital copies through social media and print customized versions for that target market entrepreneur.

Emporia Main Street wants your downtown to experience the same success attracting business investment, so they made a business investment guide shell available online, so you can get a jump start on yours.

Thank you, Emporia!

 

Three Steps to Refresh Your Main Street Strategies for Visible Results

How can your local Main Street program better use limited resources to create vibrant, people-centered places?

The Main Street Approach has been a successful model for NMSC06_WEBBANNER_F_APPROACHolder commercial district revitalization for more than 35 years and is used to revitalize and manage downtowns in more than 2,000 communities across the U.S.  The Four Point approach offers a simple guide to comprehensively address a complex and sometimes chaotic downtown environment.  While that is true, it is a challenge to get the equation just right to catalyze reinvestment, create jobs and create a better quality of life, and especially to do it just right.

Throughout the past few years, the National Main Street Center has conducted surveys, convened a task force of experts and engaged closely with the Main Street network to develop a revised framework.  This revision, called the Four Point Refresh, is the same approach, just sharpened, made more strategic and with a focus on visible results.

  1. Identify the Community Vision for Success – This essential step provides a foundation for outlining the community’s own identity, expectations and ideals, while building off of market opportunities.
  2. Create Community Transformation Strategies – Work together to identify strategies that provide a clear sense of priorities and direction.  These strategies align with the four key areas: economic vitality, effective promotion, quality design and a sustainable organization.  Typically communities will find two to three strategies to help reach a community vision.
  3. Implement and Measure – To succeed, the effort must be able to demonstrate the wise use of resources, which translates to real change on the ground: new jobs added to Main Street, new businesses open, buildings redeveloped and certainly other metrics of success.

Find out more about how to make your local revitalization efforts better, stronger and faster by coming to the next Virginia Main Street training. VMS offers trainings throughout the year, and there is sure to be one near you.