Reflections from the Road

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With the unofficial beginning of fall, I wanted to reach out and share some of what I’ve learned on my travels to Main Streets this summer.   I’ve visited nearly 20 Main Street communities in almost a dozen states during my “listening tour,” and I’ve met directly with Main Street coordinators from about 18 states.

More than anything else, I’m struck by the energy, creativity and dedication of Main Street managers and coordinators.  Managing a Main Street isn’t just a job – it’s a calling.  And we at the National Main Street Center (NMSC) want to be as supportive as possible of this important work.  Main Street Coordinators and Managers clearly value the ability to be part of a large state and national network of professionals who offer a wealth of experience and commercial revitalization know-how, and NMSC will be looking for improved ways for the Network to connect – both in person and online – to share and celebrate your work.

Three major themes emerged during the course of my travels: the need for improved recognition of Main Street’s accomplishments, the need for improved resources for communities, and the need for improved responsiveness by NMSC.

Improved Recognition

Based on my conversations this summer, there is concern that the work of Main Street Managers sometimes isn’t taken seriously by their communities.   Main Street management can be viewed primarily as “event coordination,” rather than a serious endeavor to improve the economic health and social connectedness of a community. There is the sense that managers frequently leave their positions because they feel their work is undervalued.   The short average tenure of Main Street managers (around 2.5 years nationally) was mentioned repeatedly as a significant issue. 

NMSC is committed to working with the Network to elevate the profile of managers and Main Street programs more generally.  We’re particularly eager to explore how an ongoing, national certification program for managers – similar to the American Planning Association’s credentialing – can help to establish the professionalism of our work and provide a more supportive context for managers.   Over the next six months, we’ll also be evaluating a new national recognition program –including a re-assessment of GAMSA and new programs to better celebrate the individual leadership of managers, board members, volunteers, and others who play crucial roles on Main Street.

Improved Resources

Coordinating Programs and individual Main Street programs are looking to the National Main Street Center to help keep them informed on the fundamentals of running a Main Streets, including board and volunteer management, effective promotions, and design resources.  But resources are also needed to enable Main Street managers to address new needs and embrace opportunities that may be a bit outside the traditional Four Points, such as those relate to housing or mixed use development, improving energy efficiency on Main Street, or dealing with a state on a challenging transportation issue.

NMSC will be addressing the need for basic and more advanced resource in a number of ways, many of which will be the subject of discussion during our forthcoming strategic planning sessions this fall.   Solutions are likely to include an update to core Main Street publications, new trainings that will provide education opportunities on hot topics, and a focus on expanded partnerships that bring new tools and resources to the Main Street Network. 

Responsiveness of NMSC

Finally, coordinators and Main Street managers raised concerns about the basic responsiveness of NMSC on issues such as problems with listservs, requests for materials, and other basic membership-related requests.  NMSC has already launched an updated and improved website which is far easier to navigate, and with a new internal member tracking request system, we are working to improve our response time for general and membership related inquiries.

I’m so grateful to everyone I met over the last few months for providing such a warm welcome, and for the generosity of your time and thoughts; these ideas will play an important role in the Center’s strategic planning efforts, which will kick into high gear this fall.  Look for more details on how the entire Network can participate in our planning exercises later this fall.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me directly with any questions, thoughts or concerns you have at pfrey@savinplaces.org.