Workplans

Workplans are hard.  The good ones take time and thought.  However, they are important to make sure that your downtown revitalization efforts stay on track and are a great way to tally your progress. 

There is usually a strong correlation between the success of any downtown’s revitalization and the community’s ability to create…and follow…a good workplan.  How well do you use your workplan?

Get noticed

Once you have designed and launched your Web site, your next task is to get it noticed. One of the top ways to do this is to make sure you show up in relevant Web searches.

If you are selling your charming and thriving business district, you will want to be sure that your Web site pops up when someone Googles the obvious things like “historic Virginia towns,” or “antiques + Virginia.” There are several ways to do this, some paid and some not.

When trying to make your Web site relevant to searches, free methods are called Organic Search Engine Optimization (OSEO). This article from Entrepreneur magazine gives a brief overview of some do’s and don’ts. Although the article is geared toward startup and small businesses, you can pretty much substitute “downtown” wherever it reads “business.”

The key to getting a high ranking is being relevant to the search keywords and having a high hit/response rate. To increase your pull from nearby travellers, make sure you show up when searches for nearby attractions are made. Examples might be “Blue Ridge Parkway,” “Floydfest,” or “Lake Gaston.”

Report from the Main Street 2.0 conference

While the Virginia Main Street staff was unable to travel to Chicago for the 2009 National Main Streets Conference, Becoming Main Street 2.0, Jessie Chase from Harrisonburg was able to attend and reported back that it was fun, interesting and worthwhile.

We returned from the Chicago National Main Street conference on Wednesday evening tired and a little jet-lagged, but with a lot of new knowledge to share. Four days of sessions, presentations, talking to vendors, and exploring, taught us a lot about the windy city and even more about Main Street 2.0.

Things We Learned in Chicago:

* When taking event photos, use the “auto” setting on your camera. Manual settings are too slow, especially when a great picture depends on a split-second decision;
* Barack and Michelle Obama were married at the historic South Shore Cultural Center, the location of the opening reception;
* Despite the downturn in the economy, this was the biggest Main Street conference yet with more than 1,600 attendees, 650 of which were first-timers;
* Track your online presence through www.serph.com. It brings up blog hits, Web links, and more;
* A free blog can serve as your Web site. Create static pages for consistent information and use posts to update your community on current events;
* Purchase the matching domain name and link directly to your blog;
* Chris from Lynchburg wears furry shoes;
* The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 burned 2,000 acres in downtown Chicago. A reporter actually made up the oft-repeated story that the fire was caused by a cow kicking over a lantern;
* The National Trust makes it easy for your constituents to support your organization via secure online contribution pages. The trust can host secure online contribution pages on their Web site and you can link to the pages through your Web page free of charge;
* If you sell alcohol at an event, you should definitely consider purchasing Special Event Alcohol Liability Insurance;
* Use www.volunteermatch.com to post nonprofit volunteer opportunities. Potential volunteers search the site by location and key words;
* Chicago plows their snow into Lake Michigan and the river that runs through Chicago is aptly named the Chicago River;
* It took television 13 years to reach an audience of 50 million. Facebook accomplished the same in just two years;
* If you need more membership money, try asking for it. A Main Street community in Iowa asked members to increase their pledges by 20 percent and 80 percent of respondents did just that; and
* If you embrace social networking tools – Facebook, Flickr, blogs, etc. – you must keep them current or they are useless.

Thanks, Jessie!

You can see Jessie’s slideshow from her trip here, and all of Harrisonburg’s slideshows here.

Historic building rehabilitation tax credits: 101

Did you know that you could receive a credit on your income taxes if you rehabilitate a historic building?   

If your rehabilitation meets certain requirements, you could claim 20 percent of your qualified rehabilitation expenses as a credit on your federal income taxes.  And, you could claim 25 percent of your qualified rehabilitation expenses as a credit on your state income taxes.  Both the federal and state Rehabilitation Tax Credit Programs could tip the scales in favor of an affordable and profitable rehabilitation of a priceless historic downtown asset.   

Most of the buildings in your Main Street district will qualify for the programs. Buildings which are individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, or are certified as contributing to a historic district that is listed on these registers, are eligible for the program.  In order to claim the federal tax credit, the owner must use the building for income-producing purposes.  The state credit is available for owner-occupied, as well as income-producing, properties.

A few other considerations: there is a spending threshold, an absolute minimum expenditure, for both credits.  In order to receive the credits, all work must be performed in accordance with The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards of Rehabilitation.  The application for the credits is a three-step process that is managed through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).  DHR provides an Open House every first Friday to assist property owners, architects and investors with the process. 

You can find out more about the credits through the National Park Service and DHR Web sites.

Keep your books in order

Want to be sure your small business never becomes a big business? A surefire method to ensure a lack of success is to have shoddy accounting practices.  Knowing where your money is, how much of it there is, and when you can expect more are key to proper business planning.  Without a plan, your endeavor is doomed to haphazard success, at best.

Jay Goltz, an entrepreneur and author of The Street-Smart Entrepreneur, writes on CNNMoney.com that,

These days, of course, we are not enjoying a vibrant economy. One consequence is that many entrepreneurs find themselves confronting serious issues that should have been resolved years ago. These issues often involve accounting.

He continues to describe a businessman who was counting booked orders as receivables, thus confusing the time frame at which he could expect to collect the funds.  It sounds like a very small error, but this error was threatening the health of the company, as the information for planning was incorrect.

While the article is geared for small businesses, nonprofits need to keep an eye on their books, too.  While the staff often does the actual bookeeping and completes the day to day transactions, the board of directors is legally obligated to provide sufficient oversight.  That means that the treasurer should provide monthly reports to the board.  More information regarding best practices for nonprofits can be found at Boardsource.org.

Create a microclimate in your economic garden

Carrying the gardening metaphor forward, there’s not a lot you can do to control the weather. As a whole that’s true in economic gardening as well, but how about encouraging your own microclimate in order to foster a healthy local economy in the middle of a national downturn?

It turns out that’s just what many communities are doing through their “buy local” efforts. A recent Business Week article tracks the relative success of independent retailers in communities with active campaigns. Author John Tozzi points to the insulating effect of keeping more dollars circulating locally.

While the article includes a slideshow of campaign images from around the country, Luray’s “Shop Local Luray” campaign holds its own against them with a fun approach to the concept clearly identified in the logo: we can all play a part in keeping our local economies moving.

That’s the message that Michael Shuman, author of Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age and The Small-Mart Revolution, has been delivering for the last few years. He was featured in a recent Christian Science Monitor article, and with layoffs hitting many larger employers across the country, more communities are tuning into his message.

For more resources, check out his blog, or visit: livingeconomies.org, the Web site of the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies.