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Main Spotlight: Reflections from the 2022 Community Transformation Workshop in Wyoming

October 11, 2022 | Main Spotlight: Reflections from the 2022 Community Transformation Workshop in Wyoming | By: Jackie Swihart, Program Officer for Revitalization Services at Main Street America | 

Participants and MSA Staff at the workshop.

On September 14, 2022, Main Streeters from across the country convened in Wyoming for a three-day Community Transformation Workshop offered by the Main Street America Institute. The workshop provided participants the opportunity to learn and put into practice Transformation Strategies in both downtown Laramie and Cheyenne. Educational synergy by way of Main Street America expertise, local investigation, and peer sharing made it a week to remember. As a new Main Street America staff member, the workshop gave me a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the Approach and the way it helps Main Street communities. Here are five of my favorite takeaways from this year’s workshop.

Main Street Principles are Adaptive

The Main Street Approach is known for being a tool to organize the work of a local program, but the way we implement it can be a little different depending on the community we’re working with. Transformation Strategies and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems provide creative, multidisciplinary frameworks that can be adapted to commercial corridors both big and small, acting as the “middle equalizer” for communities. Regardless of where or how community transformation occurs, participants at this year’s workshop were reminded that place is always at the heart of what we do.

Organizational Sustainability Is as Important as Starting Up

Establishing a Main Street program is important work, but so is maintaining one. Despite this, participants acknowledged that Main Streeters tend to focus more on the former than the latter. Bureaucracy as an omnipresent threat was noted as a major obstacle for progress but bypassing the realm of politics is possible. Through mutual relationships with government, foundations, banks, civic clubs, universities, and other outside-the-box partners, local programs can cultivate multi-year investments to sustain ongoing transformation while also ensuring a program’s longevity. With a Transformation Strategy-driven work plan in hand, nurturing relationships with funders can be easier than ever.

Consumers are Voting with their Dollars

More than ever, what retailers do matters more than what they say. Shoppers want to spend their time and money on employers who take responsibility for social, cultural, and environmental issues. Similarly, retailers must rethink relationships with workers and create environments where people want to work. The same is true for how consumers vote with their time. People follow people they trust and who act with integrity. When developing a Transformation Strategy, it’s imperative that everyone in the community is invited to share their vision for downtown and that diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are respected throughout all phases of revitalization.

Main Streets are Conveners

With a collective impact model at its core, Main Street programs have the unique power to connect organizations, access capital, support entrepreneurs, and develop volunteers. Without the coalition of the willing, burnout is inevitable. While our Main Street movement isn’t exactly rocket science, it is hard work that requires personal commitment and resilience. By promoting individual and public ownership of the revitalization journey, including Transformation Strategy identification, we can open doors and speak plain language that invites everyone into the discussion.

Revitalization is a Journey

The process is fundamental, but never complete. After adopting and implementing a Transformation Strategy, the feeling of “what’s next?” often sneaks up. The sooner we recognize that our journey is just that—a journey—the sooner we allow creativity and curiosity to take charge. The Transformation Strategy identification and implementation process should take place every two to three years to ensure that quality data and resources are being leveraged. As a result of this journey, our work is always in motion.

At the end of the workshop, participants were asked to share their “one thing” they plan to walk away with. While responses varied from placemaking to economic vitality to leadership, the common consensus revolved around the movement itself. Participants went home knowing they aren’t alone in this work, and that they have a network of support to call upon. From peers, to Coordinators, to Main Street America staff, the work is never done alone.

About the Author

Jackie is a former educator and public servant with a passion for people, place, and history. Prior to joining MSA as a Program Officer, Jackie served as a Deputy Director for the Indiana Archives and Records Administration and worked as the Indiana Main Street Coordinator prior. Jackie has a degree in Secondary Education and holds a master’s degree in Public History.