Blog Viewer

Strategic Planning Through Transformation Strategies – Saline, Michigan


Back in October 2015, we introduced the three key components of the refreshed Main Street Approach: inputs, outputs and Community Transformation Strategies. These strategies provide a framework for how communities can leverage their local assets and engage communities in creating long-term transformation, resulting in a better quality of life for all.

But how does a Main Street organization select and use Transformation Strategies? Following a visit to Saline Main Street with Laura Krizov of Michigan Main Street, Matt Wagner and Norma Ramirez de Miess of the National Main Street Center developed a custom Strategic Transformation Strategy Plan for Saline. The full report includes three Transformation Strategies—Technology-Based Entrepreneurship, Residential Diversification and Family-Friendly. Here, we've included the first two, Technology-Based Entrepreneurship and Residential Diversification, as examples. For more information on Transformation Strategies, or to schedule a visit with our Field Services team, see our Main Street Field Services webpage.

Main Street Refresh and Transformation Strategies

The “Main Street Refresh” initiative aims to rethink the traditional Main Street model so the program is more responsive to economic context and its outcomes are directly measurable. Downtown Saline, Michigan’s commercial district is participating as a pilot and partner in testing and refining the new Main Street model and it’s alignment with Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) within the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), prior to a formal statewide roll-out.

At the core of the Main Street Refresh are economically-grounded “Transformation Strategies.” These Strategies will serve as the foundation for the revitalization program’s work. The majority of activities with the organization’s annual workplan should then be guided by the Strategies and aligned around an agreed direction and outcome.

As part of the pilot, and as an aid to making the new format easier to adopt, the National Main Street Center has developed nearly 20 “off-the-shelf” strategies that can be employed in a range of conditions seen across a variety of communities. These are, essentially, ready-made Transformation Strategies. They are a place to begin and can be customized along the way. We have called this initial set “Catalyst Strategies.” The Catalyst Strategies are still in development, but our goal is that communities will be able to identify the strategies that are the best fit by using information they already have in hand or that can be easily obtained. We want to help communities get going, and not get bogged down in deep-dive market analysis research, at least at the outset.

For Saline, we familiarized ourselves with the neighborhood by reading background materials, making a two-day site visit and holding several phone calls. We then looked at a few key data sets (demographics, buying power, sales leakage, and business inventory) and, based on what we learned, proposed four possible Transformation Strategies. We also sought to understand the community’s experience with development and their readiness to deal with real estate investment as positioned through the Michigan RRC process. We presented the draft strategies at a community meeting to assess community reaction and garner feedback. Here are two, in no particular order: Technology-Based Entrepreneurship and Residential Diversification.

Draft Transformation Strategies

Based on community feedback and survey input, coupled with market data and current business mix reviews, we recommended the following Transformation Strategies for Saline.

1.  Technology-Based Entrepreneurship Transformation Strategy

The following transformation strategy is reflective of the unique geographic characteristics of downtown Saline, which is located within 20 minutes of Ann Arbor, Michigan—home of the University of Michigan.  U of M is one of the top five federally funded research universities in the U.S.  As a result, the Ann Arbor metroplex—including  Saline—is part of a very extensive technology-based entrepreneurship ecosystem, featuring technical assistance providers, capital resource providers, access to talent (social capital), etc.

Over the last couple years, several more technology based companies have established offices locations in or around downtown Saline, resulting in the creation of well over 50 new jobs.  Tech-based workers typically are higher paid, well-educated and generally are attracted to historic downtown locations that provide creative spaces for their work. They furthermore can be a source of potential residents seeking a more walkable and close-in live/work situation.

Why Saline?

  • Leverages proximity to Ann Arbor, as well as pipeline of entrepreneurs and connectivity to U of M.
  • Leverages tremendous rent advantage over Ann Arbor, which is nearly twice the average rent/sq.ft.
  • Leverages livability and access to great schools.
  • Leverages existing business mix that supports more technology-based business activity (restaurants, cafes, 3rd spaces)
  • Leverages historic building stock (creativity)

Sample Work Plan Activities:


  • Develop a free Wi-Fi system throughout Downtown.  Tech-based workers expect to be connected during and after work.
  • Provide for more bike racks throughout downtown.


  • Develop a brand awareness campaign that features downtown Saline as a great place for launching and growing a tech-based venture.


  • Develop partnership opportunities and increase participation in groups such as SPARK, which will further create awareness and a pipeline for tech-based entrepreneurs to locate in downtown Saline.
  • Work with regional entrepreneurship technical resource providers to host training workshops in downtown Saline.

Economic Vitality:

  • Through RRC certification, evaluate a site specific housing and co-working space feasibility study for the vacant lot in downtown Saline.
  • Develop a tool kit of resources (both financial and technical) that specifically target the development of tech-based ventures. (RRC)
  • Develop a business recruitment marketing piece geared toward tech-based entrepreneurs.Work with local property owners and developers to expand leasable office space geared toward tech-based ventures. Evaluate potential niches within the tech-based entrepreneurship space that perhaps focus on more on design (graphic design firms, app creators, programmers, etc.)

2.  Residential Diversification Transformation Strategy

People who live in a commercial district are likely to need a variety of convenience items, from groceries to carry-out meals, and small hardware items to greeting cards. They also need easy access to personal and professional services, such as hair care, daycare, and medical services. People who live in and near the district are more likely to shop in the evenings and on weekends, which means an organization also needs to think about store hours.

The Residential Diversification Transformation Strategy helps your revitalization program capitalize on this all important “captive” customer group – and helps you meet more of their needs, making the district an even more appealing place for people to live and work.

To maximize this strategy’s success, you will need to learn a bit about the characteristics and work and shopping habits of the district’s residents. Marketing activities will then need to be geared towards their needs and interests and scheduled during times that work best for them. And, the range of products and services that are available in the district should be expanded, either by adding new product lines to existing businesses or by developing new businesses (or both).

Why Saline?

  • Leverages livability and access to great schools
  • Leverages employment base
  • Leverages quaint, historic character with proximity to Ann Arbor
  • Leverages demographic and psychographic data

Sample Work Plan Activities:


  • Create comfortable public lunchtime and weekend gathering places.
  • Change storefront window displays at least monthly. The people who live and work near the district see its window displays almost every day. Keeping window displays fresh helps keep them engaged.
  • Ensure that the pathways that residents most frequently use to and within the district are attractive, appealing, safe, and well maintained.
  • Work with property owners to identify opportunities to create in-fill and/or upper-floor apartments and condominiums for district workers and others interested in living in the district.


  • Include one or more district residents on the revitalization organization’s board of directors and in its committees.
  • Build and strengthen partnerships with nearby neighborhood associations.
  • Organize a series of “business after-hours” social events where district workers and residents can meet one another and become more familiar with district businesses.


  • Schedule promotional activities immediately after work, when the district’s workers and residents returning home from work are most likely to be available.
  • Offer store deliveries to the district’s workers and residents.
  • Offer a district-wide customer loyalty program for workers and residents.

Economic Vitality:

  • Add needed product lines to existing businesses.
  • Create and offer incentives to encourage district workers to live in and near the district.
  • Create and offer incentives to encourage district property owners to convert unused or underused upper-floor space to apartments or condominiums.
  • Periodically survey district residents and/or conduct focus groups with them to learn about their shopping habits, the things they like (and don’t like) about the district.


Taking the Next Step

Over the next year or two, after your Catalyst Strategy has begun taking root, you should plan to conduct additional research that can help you refine the strategy and adapt it more precisely to your district’s particular circumstances. You may tackle some aspects of the market research on your own, or you may choose to engage professional assistance. Whichever route you choose, this additional research should help you answer questions like these:

  • What are the boundaries of the primary trade area for this strategy? Are there other geographic areas that you should try to reach?
  • Of the businesses that exist in your district that support this strategy, how many square feet do they comprise, in total? What are their estimated total annual sales, including all selling channels?
  • How much do the district’s residents spend on various products and services, based on their demographic characteristics? Approximately how much of this spending do you think you can realistically capture in the future?
  • What additional products and services might the district’s and/or nearby residents purchase, if they were available?

As we wrap up the Main Street Refresh pilot program in Saline—and in our other pilot communities across the county—we’ll be sharing much more about how to implement Transformation Strategies in your own community. Stay tuned for new resources and trainings from the Center in the coming year.  

To schedule a visit with our Field Services team, go to our Main Street Field Services webpage.