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Announcing the 2021 Mary Means Leadership Award Recipient

April 14, 2021 | Announcing the 2021 Mary Means Leadership Award Recipient |

Left: Breanne Durham, Norma Ramirez de Miess (MSA), and Ellen Gamson (Mount Vernon)     Center: Breanne Durham     Right: Breanne with her Washington Trust colleagues at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference in Seattle

Breanne Durham, director of the Washington State Main Street Program (WSMSP), is this year’s recipient of the Mary Means Leadership Award. Selected by a national jury, Breanne is being recognized for her collaborative and visionary approach, which empowers Washington State Main Street leaders to strengthen local economies, preserve historic assets, and work together to revitalize their communities.

“Washington State’s Main Street organizations are fortunate to have Breanne at the helm,” said Main Street America’s President and CEO Patrice Frey. “Her leadership has motivated Main Street directors to collaborate and innovate to support Washington Main Streets, and the collective effort she inspired has drawn more communities to join the movement and bolstered local economies.”

Main Street America introduced the Mary Means Leadership Award last year to celebrate the vision and determination of leaders committed to community revitalization—and in 2020, the characteristics required to help Main Streets persist and thrive have come into sharper relief. This year’s nominees were judged on the extent to which they build local capacity, lead through strategy, exhibit innovation and ingenuity, bring together diverse stakeholders through a shared vision, demonstrate commitment to continuous learning, and advance a preservation ethic in their work.

The executive directors of all 36 Washington State Main Street communities jointly nominated Breanne for the award, crediting her unflagging encouragement for supporting local groups during the pandemic and motivating them to achieve their goals. “With long-term vision and short-term execution, Breanne is both prophet and shepherd in facilitating success for our state’s Main Street communities,” said Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, which manages the WSMSP under contract with the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation. “Her dedication has brought increased interest in Main Street and growth in the number of Main Street programs that now operate in Washington state.”

Breanne with the local Washington Main Street executive directors.

During her five-year tenure as director, Breanne has established the program as a mainstay within state government. In one of her first initiatives, she conducted an extensive public outreach process that established a clear set of rules for WSMSP’s operation and created much-needed clarity for existing programs and new members. The early success also positioned WSMSP to seek additional funding through the state’s Main Street tax incentive, which allows business owners and local governments to receive a tax credit for donations to Main Street programs. Thanks to Breanne’s advocacy, the legislature voted to expand the cap on the tax credit from $1.5 million to $2.5 million statewide.

As a leader, Breanne is creative, encouraging, and collaborative. She has worked with partners at the national and state level to offer trainings to local programs and is a source of new ideas to keep them inspired and connected. Through the development of cohort groups connecting executive directors and board presidents, Breanne also helped build bonds between communities and encouraged volunteer board presidents to remain engaged.

When the pandemic hit, Breanne immediately took action, pulling together a task force from Washington, Oregon, and Iowa to develop an overarching COVID-19 response strategy. This effort helped give Main Street directors the tools to confidently take the lead in their communities and help their small businesses navigate the crisis. Through another partnership with Oregon Main Street, Breanne also organized regular “Coffees Online” that brought Washington Main Street directors together to share ideas and encouragement.

In a year when the pandemic devastated small businesses nationwide, Breanne pushed to launch an impact study that powerfully illustrates why Washington’s Main Streets are vital to the state economy. The study shows that from 2011 to 2019, every state dollar invested in Main Street has returned $1.58 to the state in the form of tax revenues—making the case that public and private funding for Main Street programs delivers a significant return on investment.

Through Breanne’s leadership, Washington Main Street programs have proven their value, and Washington’s Main Street directors have become a community. Through her collaborative and visionary approach to leadership, Breanne has generated countless new ideas and connections that have helped jumpstart economic recovery in previously struggling downtowns—and attracted more communities to join the Main Street movement.