Economic Vitality: A Key Ingredient to Creating a Vibrant Downtown

Helping small businesses is one of the key ingredients to creating a vibrant downtown! To fully-bake that vision, you will need to employ a comprehensive approach, the Main Street Approach, a framework where strategies are implemented through a broad range of activities that span four areas of work, which includes Economic Vitality, Design, Promotion, and Organization, proves quite useful and worthwhile.

As we celebrate National Small Business Month, let’s look at how Economic Vitality (EV) fits into this framework. The primary purpose of EV is to improve economic performance of the district by:

  • Learning about the district’s current economic condition and opportunities for market growth;
  • Strengthening existing businesses and recruiting new ones;
  • Working with property owners and partners to promote the strategic use of space and development; and
  • Forging economic development partnerships to assemble training and mentoring, financial incentives, and access to capital.

Economic Vitality works with your Main Street district’s existing economic base, more specifically your local businesses that drive the economy. You can learn a lot about your economy through market information and community vision. Start with gathering information that already exists, such as census information from the U.S. Census Bureau, including population, demographics, and income; sales tax data from your local commissioner of revenue; and any market studies completed in the last 3-5 years by community partners. 

Complete the picture of your existing base by engaging community stakeholders, those who live and work amid the market and have some keen insights that can help you understand your economies’ strengths and opportunities. Conduct a survey of the businesses and residents through online services like SurveyMonkey or Alchemer, to name a couple. Local businesses can tell you their highest revenue days, business barriers and needs, and customer buying patterns, while local customers can tell you their favorite businesses, shopping hours, and wish list of desired businesses. In addition to a survey, Onancock Main Street (OMS) hosted a community listening event asking locals to drop in and share ideas, hopes, stories and pictures, too.

Economic Vitality builds on the assets in a way that offers opportunities for existing businesses to grow and for new businesses and uses to join the mix. Looking at your newfound information ask yourself what makes your district unique and how can you best use it to further your work. Develop programming that helps existing businesses better meet the needs of customers and expand their sales. Through their Keep Entrepreneurs Program (KEP), Destination Downtown South Boston (DDSB) hosts business roundtables to support and sustain a cohort of new small business owners who won startup funds through local implementation of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Community Business Launch (CBL) program.

Economic Vitality works with property owners and partners to promote the strategic use of space and development. From your data gathering, consider strategies to maximize space, such as adaptive reuse opportunities and trends for new spaces to accommodate a broad mix of uses that make a vibrant district. This could be to simply market properties, buildings, and spaces. Hopewell Downtown Partnership (HDP) hosted the 2023 Downtown Hopewell Open House and Tour event, showcasing several renovation projects and available commercial spaces.

Economic Vitality collaborates and leverages the resources and expertise of community economic development partners. These partnerships help harness skills and opportunities that may be outside the grasp of Main Street board members and volunteers. Hopewell Downtown Partnership relied on collaboration with the local and state governments, chamber of commerce, regional economic development organization, and area colleges to organize, package, and promote their recently published Downtown Investment Guide.

The EV recipe for success is rooted in harnessing local economic opportunity and creating a supportive environment for small business owners and the growing scores of entrepreneurs, innovators, and localists alike. To learn more, check out these resources: