Facebook Helps Save Washington State’s Main Street Program

Strategy: Collaborate in New Ways, Make Your Case, Take Advantage of Tech

Type of attraction: Main Street/Community

Summary: In 2010, when the state of Washington proposed eliminating the Main Street Program as part of the state’s budget cuts.

In 2010, when the state of Washington proposed eliminating the Main Street Program as part of the state’s budget cuts, supporters responded by using a creative blend of cutting-edge social media and old-fashioned “face time” with legislators to save the program.

“We knew that social media had to be a part of the platform,” says Timothy Bishop, who was executive director of the Ellensburg Downtown Association. Bishop set up a Facebook page which attracted almost 1,000 “friends” to keep everyone informed and to encourage involvement in saving the Main Street Program.

“The Facebook page became invaluable to reach core constituents and to generate an immediate response when there was movement in the legislature,” Bishop notes.  “We could post on Friday night that there was a hearing on Saturday morning, and we could get a response by generating phone calls, emails and attendance at the hearings that we might not have been able to achieve from a standard email blast.”

Building on this communication tool was a continual schedule of meetings with legislators. “Social media got the word out to activate the masses, and we paired that with traditional one-on-one meetings with legislators,”says Jennifer Meisner, executive director of the nonprofit Washington Trust for Historic Preservation which manages the program under a contract with the State of Washington. “We had a weekly public policy and advocacy meeting where we talked through what we were doing with social media and discussed how to further these efforts with one-on-one connections.”

Through this dual approach, Main Street supporters made their case about importance of the program’s  11 certified Main Street communities and 80+ affiliates to Washington state’s economy. Legislators were informed that since 1991 the program has helped local communities create almost 12,000 jobs, more than 3,700 new and expanded businesses and leveraged private investment of $413 million. A central message to legislators was that every $1 invested by the state leveraged an average of $96 in private investment.

In addition to asking legislators to save the program, organizers also made sure to say “thank you” for their support. “We were thankful every step of the way,” Bishop says. “Every time we passed a committee meeting, we had folks in the districts making sure that legislators were getting thanked through press releases and on Facebook and also making sure they knew we needed help at the next step.”

Main Street supporters’ efforts paid off when the legislature voted to save the program by a vote of 91-7 in the House and 45-0 in the Senate.

“The program was moved to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and  even though we still had budget cuts, we were thrilled with the level of support in both houses,” Mesiner says. “There is not a single legislator who doesn’t know all about Main Street at this point. We want to continue to build on that.”

And everyone agrees that resting on the program’s laurels is not an option, but optimism is clear. Says Bishop: “One of the benefits of our success is that while we still have an uphill fight to maintain the program, because we were so visible, the likelihood that someone will propose cutting the program is greatly diminished.”

Meisner agrees: “We probably can’t restore the budget in the near future, but we want to keep the Main Street Program on our legislators’ minds and make sure they know it is effective for economic development and jobs.”

For more information, contact Jennifer Meisner at jmeisner@WA-Trust.org or 206-624-9449 or Timothy Bishop at info@basecampbaker.com. The Facebook page is titled “Supporting Main Street in Washington State.”