Staff Spotlight: Matt Wagner, Ph.D., Vice President of Revitalization Programs

June 6, 2019 | Staff Spotlight: Matt Wagner, Ph.D., Vice President of Revitalization Programs |

We’re kicking off the National Main Street Center Staff Spotlight series with our globe-trotting Vice President of Revitalization Programs Matt Wagner. Matt regularly travels for work (and, surprisingly, for fun), and flew more than 74,000 miles last year—that’s the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe nearly three times! You can check out Matt’s full bio here, and read on to find out what Matt has been up to in Main Street communities, hear his thoughts on the future of the Main Street movement, and learn his number one tip for travelers.

WAMS6.jpgMatt poses with his #WeAreMainStreet campaign postcard at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference in Seattle. Conference attendees were encouraged to write what Main Street meant to them. Keep reading to find out why Matt chose “Que rico!”

1. What project is consuming most of your time right now?
I’m continuing to develop new tools and pilot our work in two growing areas: building entrepreneurship ecosystems, as well as positioning downtowns for creating and growing small-scale manufacturers.  

2. Tell us about a recent memorable experience you had during a trip to a Main Street community.  
I had the opportunity recently to work on a project in Wyoming with the Wyoming Business Council to assist communities with retail transition after the announced closures of Shopko stores nationally. I am consistently gratified by the fortitude, drive, and positioning of small, independent business owners in places like Thermopolis and Worland to compete in a hyper-competitive retail environment and support the needs of their local communities.

3. How did you get involved in this kind of work? 
It actually started with my very first job out of college. I worked as a business organizer for a nonprofit community association operating in the central city of Milwaukee. It was there that I learned about the importance of these small businesses in creating and sustaining a sense of community.

4. What has been your proudest moment at NMSC?  
I would have to say contributing to and managing The Main Street Approach Refresh transition and working directly with communities to be more market-driven relative to their work in the Approach. This was an important and sensitive move given the nearly 40-year history of Main Street.

5. Tell us about why you filled in your #WeAreMainStreet postcard with “Que rico!”  
At the Main Street Now Conference in Seattle, I had the opportunity to spend some time with revitalization professionals attending the Conference from Puerto Rico. I was personally touched by the severity of their challenge after Hurricane Maria to deal with not only the recovery and preservation of their historic commercial districts, but frankly just meeting basic needs. “Que Rico” means “awesome” in Spanish. Our Main Street friends in Puerto Rico epitomize #WeAreMainStreet and are truly AWESOME!

6. Where do you see the Main Street movement heading over the next 10 years? 
I see expansion into adjacent markets that are interested in commercial district management, such as Chambers and Economic Development Organizations. In addition, and so important is that we continue to progress place management as a recognized professional industry that has an academic and career pathway. 

7. What’s one thing you wish more Main Street communities knew?  
Main Street managers are amazing— having to be knowledgeable in such a diversity of areas and making highly visible impacts on their communities. That being said, I often think they and their respective organizations are so humble that they don’t take enough time to celebrate their successes and advocate for resources that match the incredible impact they are having on their communities. So more messaging and positioning their organization for resource cultivation and growth.

8. What do you like to do for fun outside of work?  
Bike, run with my dog, and go to the gym. Surprisingly travel, given my already heavy travel schedule. I’ve recently spent a lot of time in Colombia and truly find it an amazing place!

9. If you weren’t at NMSC, what other career would you have?  
Probably back to academia, teaching in entrepreneurship or doing something internationally.

10. Where are you from and where do you live now? 
 I’m originally from Ohio (Go Bucks!) and now live in Milwaukee.

11. What’s your best travel tip?  
Get TSA PreCheck! It makes all the difference in the world to security line headaches!

12. How many miles did you fly last year?  
I’m unsure of the exact number, but I flew more than 74,000 miles.