Downtown Lynchburg: Where the Makers Are

The Downtown Lynchburg Association (DLA) knows how to lift up their community. Right now they’re raising awareness of the hardworking entrepreneurs who, with their own hands, are making downtown the destination for local shopping.  Our guest blogger, DLA Executive Director Ashley Kershner, gives us the goods.   

As part of our overall marketing strategy this year, Downtown Lynchburg Association wanted a campaign that would do three things: feature the fabulous businesses that make our downtown unique, position downtown as the local choice for shopping, and most importantly, attract new visitors. With a multi-year downtown construction project looming, we knew that a strong marketing effort would be needed to get our businesses through the holiday season.

The concept of “makers” is a world-wide movement – artisan crafters, handmade goods, chefs sourcing from local ingredients, and makerspaces.  We set out to develop a concept that would align Downtown Lynchburg with the movement, and that would promote it as a place to where quality, originality, and art are valued.

“Where the Makers Are,” is a series of six videos featuring diverse downtown businesses – a skate shop that makes gifts from recycled boards; a pottery shop with handmade items; a bakery that starts baking at 4am; an 85-year old jewelry shop; a specialty chocolatier; and a children’s museum that creates its own exhibits. In each of these videos, we see close-up footage of these makers creating. We hear them talk about why they do what they do, and equally important, why they choose to do it in Downtown Lynchburg.

We have only released two videos thus far, but the response has been overwhelming. The first video alone was viewed over 34,000 times, and we received almost 2,000 video reactions, every single one of them positive. With negativity reigning in social media, this campaign has proven that people are looking for a way to express pride in their community.

With four more videos to go, we look forward to the potential impact this campaign will have on Downtown Lynchburg this year and into the future.

View the “Where the Makers Are campaign here >>>

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VMS Commercial District Affiliate Grants Now Available!

Virginia Main Street has opened the application process for our first ever Commercial District Affiliate Grants! Affiliate Grants are designed to assist organizations and communities in achieving their downtown revitalization goals and be used for projects or planning purposes.

The maximum grant amount is $7,000 and can be used for…

  • non-profit organizational development;
  • vision/mission development;
  • work plan and budget development;
  • market studies;
  • downtown organization website development;
  • design projects;
  • entrepreneur support projects;
  • wayfinding system development;
  • economic vitality projects; or
  • other consultant services that will contribute to the historic downtown and for which other funds are not available.

Affiliate grants are available to registered DHCD Commercial District Affiliates and Virginia Downtowns. DHCD invites projects that hold the potential for positive impact on the downtown neighborhood’s long-term goals.

Applications for Affiliate Grants will be due on December 1, 2017, and the projects associated with the applications should be completed in our CAMS system by June 1, 2018. Our grant manual is available here!

Virginia’s Craft Beer Scene is Booming

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently announced that Virginia is now home to 206 licensed breweries, a 468% growth since 2012, when the tasting room bill, SB604, passed the General Assembly. A newly released economic impact study shows that Virginia’s booming beer industry contributes more than $9.34 billion annually to Virginia’s economy.

“In addition to the direct economic impacts of manufacturing, the industry generates increased tourism-related revenues, provides new production and sales opportunities for our agricultural producers, and enhances community revitalization and development efforts in both rural and urban areas of the Commonwealth”, said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore.

This success story is close to home on Virginia’s Main Streets. One of the latest brewery additions is Sugar Hill Brewing Company in St. Paul, opened fall 2016.  The brewery added a much needed restaurant that is now a local favorite, a tourist destination, and a big economic boost to the small town. It complements the economic development strategy as an ecological and commercial hub – connecting downtown to hiking trails, off-road recreation, and summertime tube floats and kayaking on the Clinch River.

A frothy wave is crashing into our Main Street communities; one that is having a favorable impact on local opportunity, character, and spirits.  Check out more Virginia craft brewery offerings here >>

Creating a Successful “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem”

In Main Street districts, one of the best ways to fill vacancies, and prevent new ones, is to foster a setting that is attractive to entrepreneurs and where small businesses can thrive.  The buzz word nowadays for that setting is “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” which refers to the elements outside the individual that encourage entrepreneurship and increase the probability of a successful business following a launch.  That ecosystem is what attracts, or repels, a business from locating in an empty storefront.

entrepreneur-ecosystem

Entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. is up 60% and at its highest level since 2005, according to the newest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM U.S. Report) with retirees looking for a second career and younger adults driving the trend.  The market is ripe.

Energizing Entrepreneurs was developed by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship to provide a roadmap for communities looking to build their own Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. It is a great resource for communities, organizations and individuals who want to learn:

  • Why it’s so important to become an entrepreneurial community;
  • The elements of a support system for entrepreneurs;
  • Assessment tools to develop a local strategy;
  • How to understand and connect to entrepreneurs; and
  • The importance of creating, measuring and sustaining local impact.

Exploring the opportunity is a first step and DHCD’s Building Entrepreneurial Economies program can support the effort!

Learn more >>

Local Incentives Drive Community Development

160914-manassas-ribbon-cutting

Manassas Ribbon Cutting

One of the most important ways that a municipality can support it’s small business community is through targeted financial incentives. A recent Potomac Local article touted the expansion of the city of Manassas’ business incentive programs, including Façade Improvement Grants and Landscape Improvement Grants. These incentives will assist with the exterior renovations and landscaping of existing commercial or industrial properties.  The new initiatives are designed to encourage business owners to reinvest in properties throughout the City and serve as a redevelopment tool intended to bring new life to older structures.  Each pilot program has been allocated $50,000 and property owners must agree to invest $2 for every $1 the City invests.

Incentives like these are used alone or as part of a package to retain and attract business to a Main Street district or generally catalyze projects.  They are often in the form of a grant or a zero- to low-interest loan to promote improvements and appropriate design.  Seed funding sources can come from Tax Increment Financing (TIF), bank partnerships, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), municipal/county targeted funds, or private loans and grants.  Incentives can mean the difference between vacant storefronts and a vibrant downtown neighborhood.

Congratulations to Manassas!

Learn more >>

 

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!

 

Building Entrepreneurial Economies (BEE) Grants Awarded

entrepreneur-ecosystemGovernor McAuliffe recently announced over $200,000 in Building Entrepreneurial Economies (BEE) grant awards for eight projects in the Commonwealth. The BEE grant program provides funding to local governments and nonprofit organizations for entrepreneurship programs aligned with local and regional economic development strategies, primarily in distressed communities and populations.

“Small business development is a vital component of the new Virginia economy,” said Governor McAuliffe. “The Building Entrepreneurial Economies grant awards will support our homegrown assets and create new opportunities for economic diversification. By supporting small business programs in communities across the Commonwealth, we are building a strong entrepreneurial environment that will ensure that Virginia continues to be the best place for individuals to start and grow their companies.”

BEE offers two types of grants: implementation and planning. The implementation grants are awards up to $40,000 for projects that expand coverage for small business support services or implement innovative ideas that have already been funded and field tested through the BEE planning grant program. Planning grants are awards of up to $15,000 to research, develop and plan for a potential project.

The projects that were awarded funding include the development of a one-stop information, training and work space for entrepreneurs, an accelerator program and youth entrepreneurship programs. Planning grants were awarded for regional market analysis, the creation of an infrastructure network for entrepreneurs, and the development of a co-working space.

View the governor’s press release: http://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/newsarticle?articleId=18332

Funding for FY 2018 Building Entrepreneurial Economies (BEE) grants will open on January 1, 2017, and applications will be due on March 1, 2017. Click here for more information on the BEE program.