Kathy and Norma's Latest Adventure

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Many of you know from firsthand experience the great work of the National Main Street Center's Senior Program Officers Norma Ramirez de Miess and Kathy La Plante. Their passion for the Main Street movement is made readily apparent by their tireless work on the road and their ability to jump from one Main Street adventure to the next. We are pleased to announce that Norma and Kathy are taking on additional responsibilities that will showcase their expertise to an even greater extent  – in addition to maintaining their current roles, Norma will take on the title of Director of Leadership Development and Kathy will be the Director of Coordinating Program Services.

Recently we sat down with Kathy and Norma to learn more about their new roles and discuss how their new responsibilities will benefit the Main Street network. Read the in-depth interview below!

Tell us a bit about how you got involved with Main Street

Norma Ramirez de Miess (NM): Before Main Street, I led a nonprofit organization helping with disaster relief efforts in South America. It was an ideal opportunity to stay connected to my roots and be an instrument of support when it was needed the most. Looking to be more involved in local community efforts led me to Elgin, IL’s search for an Executive Director. The Downtown Association’s vision and mission statements captured my attention and soon after, I found myself working with a proactive group of leaders who saw Main Street as the ideal structure to help bring back life to the heart of their community. And that we did! After many years of committed support from the City, businesses and property owners, and dedicated residents and local organizations, Elgin stands as a premier example of a community that came together to built successful downtown revitalization. I value my leadership experience in Elgin as a solid advantage to learning and understanding how Main Street works, and through our efforts; discovering a great fit for my personal and professional background!

Kathy La Plante (KL): I worked in downtowns managing Spurgeon’s department stores in WI, MN and IA, and was very familiar with trying to do small scale promotions to attract businesses downtown. In the mid-80s our Chamber of Commerce showed a small group of merchants the Main Street movie and we all instantly said, “We need the Main Street Program”, but it took WI another 4 years to start the statewide program. Chippewa Falls was named a Wisconsin Main Street community in 1989 and timing worked out for me to leave retail (after 12 years) and become the executive director. We were a 1996 GAMSA winner. My experience in retail really helped me understand small business needs but more importantly we were able to make things so much better by adopting the Four Point Approach.  At the time I took the job, I thought I would only do it for two years! I left Chippewa Falls after winning GAMSA to start the New Hampshire Main Street program which I did for over 10 years, establishing 23 programs statewide. In total, I’ve worked in 35 states and in hundreds of local cities since starting my Main Street career.

How long have you worked for the National Main Street Center?

NM: The National Main Street Center invited me to be part of their Field Services team six years ago this month! Through this opportunity, I’ve had the privilege of working with outstanding professionals fully invested in the efforts carried by local Main Street communities and coordinating programs in almost every state in the union.

KL: It will be 8 years in May of 2014.

Tell us about your field service specialties

NM: As a Senior Program Officer for the National Main Street Center, I am the assigned representative and manager of contracting services provided in seven state and city-wide programs and also serve as the point of contact for several more.

These responsibilities offer great opportunities to work with coordinating program staff to provide training and strategic planning support. Through their partnership, I visit communities of all sizes to offer leadership training, assessment and accreditation services, and additional organizational assistance to help them continue to move forward in their revitalization efforts. Although I can address all aspects of building and managing a Main Street program, my passion drives me to topics such as outreach and communication, strategic planning, organizational management, and leadership development.

I also serve as faculty for the annual National Main Streets Conference and often share revitalization best practices at other state-wide and national conferences. In addition, I developed the National Main Street Center Diversity Services to promote Main Streets and revitalization organizations as catalysts for engagement of all community stakeholders.

When I came on board at the Center, I also brought with me the appreciation for the role of the local Main Street directors and have also dedicated efforts every year to organize and facilitate Roundtable Sessions as annual educational and networking opportunities to come together as peers and discuss common challenges and opportunities to strengthen their leadership roles.

KL:   I typically consultant with the Organization and Promotion points, and provide program assessments, reviews and tune-ups to both local Main Street programs and coordinating programs.  Within the Organization point, I provide consultant services facilitating and training in board and staff development, visioning, strategic planning, fundraising strategies and developing fundraising plans, volunteer development, communications, and advocacy. Promotion trainings include development of promotional calendars designed around business niches and community assets to implementing image campaigns, business/retail promotions (often lacking in many Promotion Committee work plans, and special events). Working in the field as a Senior Program Officer will continue to remain an important part of my job at the National Main Street Center. As a staff member I will continue to present at the National Main Streets conference and also provide information sessions for states and communities where they have not-yet been designated a Main Street community.

What is your new title? Tell us about your new responsibilities

NM: I will be serving as the Senior Program Officer and Director of Leadership Development for the National Main Street Center. My new responsibilities will be primarily directed to building and managing the Center’s professional development programming for Main Street directors through a strong focus on a leadership track at the National Main Streets Conference, active online trainings for continuing education, and the development of a new Certification Institute. In addition, I will also work on opportunities for other members of the network, including local volunteer boards and committees, as well as the base of consultants that support the movement through specific services.

KL: My new title will be Senior Program Officer and Director of Coordinating Program Services. I will be working closely with Coordinating Programs, whether they are urban, county, regional or statewide coordinating programs, to review and refresh membership criteria for Coordinating programs. I’ll also assist with new coordinating program start-ups - we’re in the process of developing new guidelines for start-ups right now.  I will also work on advocacy for coordinating programs that are challenged with funding or organizational changes and will continue participating in assessments of coordinating programs and conducting a New Coordinator Orientation every year at the conference.

How do you see this new role benefiting the Main Street Network?

NM: The National Main Street Center places great value on the local Main Street directors for their direct understanding of what strategies do and don’t work and how to adapt them to the unique conditions of their communities. We know that the success of Main Street depends highly on the passion of these local leaders and their ability to engage and motivate people to action. My new role reflects the Center’s commitment to strengthen the connection with our local Main Street professionals and volunteer leaders and work with them and our coordinating partners to address local leadership needs and to maximize opportunities that promote and enhance the impacting role of the Main Street profession.

KL: NMSC is eager to work with new coordinating programs to help grow our network and establish programs where cities have been hoping for a Main Street coordinating program – my new position really reinforces the Center’s interest in working with new states, cities and/or counties. In addition to growing the network, we also wanted to strengthen our relationships with coordinating programs and provide them with training and resources that will help assure their success.  

What excites you most as the Main Street movement continues to evolve and move forward?

NM: There are two things I find most exciting about Main Street - one that it is more than a program, but a real movement at all levels (from local to state to national); the other one is that it is driven by passion. I completely relate to local Main Street directors that often state that this is more than a job. What a wonderful opportunity it is to be able to love our jobs and to work every day with a passion!

For the past 34 years, Main Street has continually evolved while remaining a driving force for successful revitalization across the country. We at the National Main Street Center are also looking forward to the future and to working with the leaders that are making Main Street happen at the local and state levels!

KL: It’s exciting to know that more states (and urban areas) are interested in establishing new coordinating programs and that the desire to use the Main Street Approach is still so strong.  I happy that new programs are emerging but it’s also exciting to visiting 20-, 25-, and 30-year-old Main Street programs and see how innovative they still are.  The Main Street Approach continues to evolve.

What are the biggest opportunities/biggest challenges for the revitalization movement?

NM: Understanding that there are great opportunities ahead, the National Main Street Center will be conducting in the next few months a comprehensive analysis of the Main Street Approach – what is working, what is not, and how can we all move it to the forefront of community and economic development. We anticipate that these efforts will offer us a great opportunity to expand our focus, our base, and our skills. We see Main Streets expanding their reach to build a strong sense of ownership that drives not just a small group of citizens, but everyone in the community to be part of the revitalization efforts. We see Main Streets expanding their focus from project-driven to strategy-driven. We also see the people involved in Main Street as more than volunteers – but as leaders inspiring each other and sharing skills and passion. And we see the Main Street director position reaching a higher level of visibility and credibility, with management and leadership skill sets that serve their programs and communities well.

KL: At a local level, funding, communications, volunteer development and filling vacant storefronts are often the greatest challenges identified.  It is a missed opportunity when communities don’t have PR plans laid out - local programs have such an opportunity to increase communications channels by educating all constituents about Main Street successes from local leaders to state elevated officials.  Everyone working in Main Street knows what a powerfully successful economic development program this is, but the story needs to be told to so many more. 

If you have additional questions for Norma and Kathy or just want to say hello, here is their contact information:

Norma Ramirez de Miess   
Phone: 202.213.6720 Email: NMiess@savingplaces.org

Kathy La Plante
Phone: 202.297.2893 Email: KLaPlante@savingplaces.org