Secrets of Successful Communities

Guest Blogger Jeff Curtis, Executive Director of the Orange Downtown Alliance since 2008, has been involved in economic and community development for over 40 years, working in local government, chambers of commerce, and Main Street programs.  

Downtown Orange, Virginia

Recently, Board members of the National Main Street Center (NMSC) convened in Orange, VA to host a public discussion on “Secrets of Successful Communities”.  Ed McMahon, Chairman of the NMSC Board of Directors and Senior Resident Fellow of the Urban Land Institute, led a conversation on ways that small towns can succeed in a rapidly changing world.

One big change we are experiencing is that people and businesses can choose where to live or operate more than ever before. In today’s economic climate, communities that cannot differentiate themselves will have no competitive advantage; to be different, unique, and desirable.

Likewise, there is a major shift in demographics.  Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation and make up the largest age group in the U.S. workforce.  They are postponing getting married, buying a home, own fewer cars, and drive less.  They are concentrating in cool towns and walkable markets. This is where Main Street communities can capitalize on their competitive advantage in the marketplace.

“A vision is critically important but implementation is priceless,” McMahon said. “Communities change one building or project at a time. The whole world is changing so you can either get ahead of the curve and shape the type of community you want in the future or you can just accept whatever comes down the road.”

Ultimately, it’s all a committed process.  Attendees recognized the challenges, like limited retail space and property owner engagement, and the benefits of working efficiently and unified together.

More information from McMahon on successful communities can be found here >>

“Booster Rockets” For Downtown Revitalization Momentum

After decades of market preference for suburban development, Main Street and downtowns are hot again! Back in the market, they are once again desirable targets for investment, business startups, expansion, the creative economy, housing, and tourism. So, how do we sustain that momentum, take advantage of the attention, and keep the revitalization progress moving forward?  Our fellow downtown advocates @StrongTowns say communities must keep taking it to the next level without hesitation.

“I like to think of the early, “fun” stages of [revitalization] as the booster rockets on the old space shuttles…they’re necessary to get the things that really matter off the ground and into the atmosphere.  After they do their job, it’s all about making sure you blend that momentum with careful, strategic planning and experience to complete the mission.”

The Cork’s Been Popped…What’s Next For Your City? @StrongTowns

Virginia’s Award Winning Destination Tourism

Governor McAuliffe recently announced that the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) received a national tourism industry award for its work promoting the Virginia Oyster Trail, a new initiative connecting travelers with Virginia’s oyster farms, raw bars, wineries, restaurants, artisans, and downtowns like Urbanna, Cape Charles, and Chincoteague.

VTC was recognized with the prestigious National Council of State Tourism Directors Mercury Award during the U.S. Travel Association’s annual Education Seminar for Tourism Organizations conference. Winning programs serve as models to foster imagination and innovation in the development of future destination programs.

“I am proud of the coalition of partners, both public and private, that are making a difference as we build the new Virginia economy. This award demonstrates that when our state agencies work together, we can make a major impact on the future of our great Commonwealth,” said Governor McAuliffe.

Since its official launch last November, the Virginia Oyster Trail has received significant praise from consumers and has piqued the interest of travelers seeking a unique culinary travel experience. This year, VTC saw a 31 percent increase in visitation to oyster-related content on its website, www.Virginia.org.  Virginia oysters continue to be a major driver for tourism, an industry that is an instant revenue generator for the Commonwealth. Last year, visitors to Virginia spent $23 billion, which supported 222,000 jobs and contributed $1.6 billion in state and local taxes to the Commonwealth.

The Virginia Tourism Corporation partnered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Shellfish Growers of Virginia, Virginia Seafood Council, Virginia Marine Products Board, and Artisans Center of Virginia, in addition to local tourism offices and planning district commissions, to make the Virginia Oyster Trail project a reality.

To learn more about Virginia oysters and the Oyster Trail, click here.

Downtown Cape Charles, Virginia

Downtown Cape Charles, Virginia

Berryville Main Street Celebrates 25 Years

Guest blogger Sue Ross, Executive Director of Berryville Main Street, has 10 years of Main Street experience and recently returned to Berryville to lead a refreshed program, creating new partnerships and an enhanced marketplace. 

Berryville Main Street turned 25! We celebrated with bluegrass, local food, and friends in a restored downtown dairy barn.  Started in 1992, Berryville Main Street successfully sought Virginia Main Street community designation and National Main Street Accreditation to encourage the growth and revitalization of their small town.

As one of the oldest continuously designated Main Street communities in Virginia, Berryville has seen numerous building improvements, new businesses, job creation, and retail promotions resulting in a revitalized downtown. Successful partnerships include Town and County, community leaders, businesses, area schools and nonprofits.  In 2016, Berryville Main Street was recognized with a Virginia Main Street Milestone Award celebrating more than $30 million in private investment.

Berryville Main Street 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Barns of Rose Hill, February 28, 2017

Berryville Main Street 25th
Anniversary Celebration at the Barns of Rose Hill, February 28, 2017

In these 25 years, many memories have been created with events like Barn and Blue Moon Dances, Monthly and Holiday Craft Markets, Arbor Day clean-ups, Volunteer Brick Awards, and entrepreneurial ventures like the Fire House Gallery.  Berryville Main Street also spearheaded the restoration of the Barns of Rose Hill as a cultural center and visitor center.  Much of this would not have happened without the unfailing volunteer commitment of Susi Bailey, who was recognized for her service to downtown with a handcrafted garden bench from Smallwood Woodworking.

Berryville Main Street has certainly seen the ebb and flow of volunteers, board members, government officials and businesses over the years, but the vision remains constant:  Keep Berryville a vibrant, vital, unique, attractive, and family friendly place to shop, enjoy and live.

Thank you to everyone who has been a champion for downtown and supported Berryville Main Street!

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 >>

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.

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 >>