Guest Blogger Jeff Curtis, Executive Director of the Orange Downtown Alliance since 2008, has been involved in economic and community development for over 40 years, working in local government, chambers of commerce, and Main Street programs.
Recently, Board members of the National Main Street Center (NMSC) convened in Orange, VA to host a public discussion on “Secrets of Successful Communities”. Ed McMahon, Chairman of the NMSC Board of Directors and Senior Resident Fellow of the Urban Land Institute, led a conversation on ways that small towns can succeed in a rapidly changing world.
One big change we are experiencing is that people and businesses can choose where to live or operate more than ever before. In today’s economic climate, communities that cannot differentiate themselves will have no competitive advantage; to be different, unique, and desirable.
Likewise, there is a major shift in demographics. Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation and make up the largest age group in the U.S. workforce. They are postponing getting married, buying a home, own fewer cars, and drive less. They are concentrating in cool towns and walkable markets. This is where Main Street communities can capitalize on their competitive advantage in the marketplace.
“A vision is critically important but implementation is priceless,” McMahon said. “Communities change one building or project at a time. The whole world is changing so you can either get ahead of the curve and shape the type of community you want in the future or you can just accept whatever comes down the road.”
Ultimately, it’s all a committed process. Attendees recognized the challenges, like limited retail space and property owner engagement, and the benefits of working efficiently and unified together.