From flower pots to brewfests and housing options to industry recruitment, economic development in small towns is a big job with a broad scope of work.
“We encourage our Main Street communities to stay focused on their individual transformation strategies,” said Desiree Brothe from the Wyoming Main Street program. “Transformation strategies provide an outside perspective that’s backed by research to help them spend their time and resources wisely.”
Main Street America’s program is centered on transformation strategies, which address a community’s unique needs, from shopping opportunities to housing and family-friendly entertainment. Main Streets can apply for technical assistance grants from the Wyoming Business Council to have a consultant from Main Street America come and perform an exhaustive study on their community’s opportunities.
The study includes tours, surveys, listening sessions, focus groups, leakage reports – which show the areas where residents are traveling elsewhere for goods or services – and more.
The consultant then provides the top areas in which the town has the best opportunities for growth and improvement. Examples include workers and residents; convenience goods and services; arts, dining and entertainment; etc.
Rock Springs completed its transformation strategies study about three years ago, said Chad Banks, manager of Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency. The results identified two categories likely to provide the best opportunity for meaningful success: dining and entertainment; and arts and culture.
“In this work, it’s easy to get scattered,” Banks said. “The transformation strategies have really helped us narrow our focus. We looked to them to create our strategic plan.”
The consultation identified Rock Springs’ existing assets and offered suggestions for taking full advantage of them, Banks said. It confirmed the town’s recent work to restore the Broadway Theater was important, and it provided similar recommendations for other dining and entertainment options.
At the same time, the consultant offered suggestions on how not to spend their time and provided the research and backing they needed to make those decisions.
For example, the Rock Springs Main Street had hosted a big car show for about 15 years, Banks said.
“It was really popular and brought a lot of people downtown, but it was very volunteer-heavy and took a lot of resources,” he said. “Based on the recommendations from Main Street America, we were able to spin it off to a different non-profit, which freed up our time and resources.”
Banks emphasized that following their transformation strategies doesn't mean they only support dining, entertainment, arts and culture downtown; it doesn’t mean they veto any ideas that don’t fit within those categories. Instead, it provides a framework to think critically about whether a new project or idea aligns with the program’s goals and then decide how to distribute their time and energy.
Cheyenne Main Street also keeps its transformation strategies in mind as it moves forward. Downtown housing was identified as a priority for the Capital City.
“In May, we hosted our second ‘Living It Up In Downtown’ housing tour that showcased four different types of downtown housing options,” said Vicki Dugger, executive director for the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority/Main Street. “In conjunction with the tour, the Cheyenne DDA also surveyed the community on what type of downtown housing they wanted, as well as the downtown amenities they would want and expect if living downtown. The two top housing amenities were in-unit laundries and covered parking, and the top downtown amenities desired were downtown grocery stores and restaurants.”
The lessons learned from the tours and the surveys will help establish the path forward for housing in downtown Cheyenne, Dugger said. Right now, the Cheyenne DDA is looking into offering grants to promote upper-level residential units downtown and provide free fire-code consulting services.
For more information on the Main Street program and transformation strategies, contact Desiree Brothe at the Wyoming Main Street office at (307) 631-6137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.