Annotated presentation, Economic Development /Business Enhancement/Economic Restructuring 101, Heritage Ohio 2012 conference

The file at the link below is an annotated version of a presentation that Craig Gossman of MSI |KKG (newly re-branded as MKSK Studios) and I gave at the Heritage Ohio conference earlier this month in Toledo.  Craig and I were asked to work from a standard presentation prepared by Heritage Ohio staff, but for the sake of presentation clarity we felt that we needed to make some tweaks.  As I usually try to do with presentations, I’ve created an annotated version of what Craig and I said… or should have said, or would have said if we’d been smart enough to think about it at the time.

The element of the Main Street Approach (c) that we were presenting on has been a challenge for Main Streets from the beginning and is currently undergoing a sort of rethinking/rebranding among specialists within and without Main Street nationwide.  For those of you who are not steeped in this strategy for downtown revitalization, the basic premise is to create a volunteer-driven organization, supported by professional staff, that works to revitalize a traditional business district through a comprehensive approach designed to address all of the elements of a healthy downtown.  Typical standing committees include Organization, Promotions, Design and Economic Restructuring.

In the past, Main Street Economic Restructuring committees were typically charged with creating a market analysis (there’s a fun task to try to get your volunteers on board with!) and recruiting new businesses to fill vacancies.  It’s become clear that supporting the economic function of traditional business districts may require a different approach.  What that approach should be, however, is still kind of up in the air.  Some people feel that the focus should be on helping downtown businesses operate more effectively, playing a role similar to what economic developers know as Business Recruitment and Expansion (BRE).  Another group of people feel that strategic recruitment of businesses to fill vacancies should be the primary goal, while others feel that the complexities of urban real estate development are such that the committee should be focused more directly on helping make real estate deals happen.  Heritage Ohio, for the moment, is trying to address all three angles, as you can tell from this presentation.  But you can also tell by the number of slides in each section where the organization is currently putting its emphasis.

My concern in giving this presentation is that I think that addressing all three of these elements well would be beyond the scope of most organizations with a full complement of professional staff, let alone an organization that intends to make extensive use of volunteers.  And I don’t know which of these approaches should be subbed in for the old Economic Restructuring in the official canon, or if any of them should be.  My suspicion at this point is that each of these may be a necessary emphasis in different communities and at different times in their development.  And that implies that this part of the organization would have to have a level of fluidity, an ability to pivot, that we don’t expect from other parts of a Main Street organization –and seldom truly expect from most economic development agencies.

This is why I have placed so much emphasis on developing a plan of action for this part of the organization.  A community that is serious about fostering economic vitality in its downtown is going to have to look very closely and unblinkingly at its challenges and opportunities — both the ones that show up in the convention bureau’s publicity and the developer’s sales pitches, and the ones that take more work to uncover.    The bigger challenge, though, will be the actual planning part — understanding the extent of the organization’s capacity, setting priorities and creating a step-by-step plan of action that gives them a fighting chance to actually make a difference.  That’s not easy, and because it’s not easy, it’s often neglected.  But making a sound and useful plan has never been more important.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please see below.  If it’s something more relevant to Craig than to myself, I’ll pass it along and post his response here as well.

With that loooong preamble, here you go.  Enjoy.

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