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Economics of ecommerce

Forrester Research says online shopping just keeps growing and growing. U.S. online retail sales, which rose 12.6 percent to $176.2 billion in 2010, are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 10 percent through 2015. Share this stat with your local businesses that have lackluster websites and don’t provide online shopping because they need to know that they are missing out.

Small business owners don’t need to spend a fortune on eCommerce. There are tools available that can make it affordable—check into a few like Goodsie, Shopify, Storenvy, and Weebly. Basically, these tools let business owners choose a customizable template, upload items (images, content, and price), and get orders processed for a fee. The prices vary—each site has a host of different features and some offer a barebones service for free, so entrepreneurs need to do some research to make sure they are paying for what they need. 

And remember that just like bricks-and-mortar stores, online stores need to look good. Ty McMahan’s Dec. 12, 2011, article, “6 Tips for Building a Web-Based Store” in The Wall Street Journal, provides several tips for smart eCommerce. The first— don’t skimp with good photos of merchandise; make sure you are illustrating the product well so that virtual customers can get a good idea of what they are about to purchase. We’ve all shopped online: you know how useless product images and a lack of detail will send you looking for a better website. Thus, it’s also important to include detailed and useful descriptions. They must be written so that search engines can pick up on the right keywords. (This is called Search Engine Optimization, which I have mentioned before in Network Notes and posted in how-to articles on our Facebook page.) And don’t forget that how the item is presented to the customer when it arrives also makes an impact. Nice touches like a hand-written thank-you note, ribbon, a free gift, and other considerations seal the deal.

The Economics of Preservation

A new study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Economics Associated with Outdoor Recreation, Natural ResourcesConservation and Historic Preservation in the United States, was released in October. Combined, these activities have produced 9.4 million jobs; $1.06 trillion in economic activity; and $107 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues.  Some stats on just preservation alone include:

• Nationally, the federal historic tax credits returned more than $22.3 billion in federal tax dollars since 1978 on $17.5 billion in tax credits – a return of 27.4 percent from every dollar invested. 

• Federal historic preservation tax credits support 61,200 jobs, have produced $6.6 billion in economic activity and have generated $935 million in tax revenues.

• Properties in historic districts have increased in value, rising generally 20 percent higher than similar properties elsewhere.

• Every million dollars invested in residential historic rehabilitation generates approximately 36 jobs, $1.24 million in income, and nearly $200,000 in state and local taxes.

• In Nebraska alone, an average of $46 million spent on statewide historic rehabilitation annually from 2001 to 2005 created 1,004 jobs and produced an additional $31 million in income and $45 million in GDP at the national level.

• Heritage tourism in just Philadelphia supports more than 45,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in economic activity annually.

The Economics of Walkability

CEOs for Cities’ recent study entitled Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities quantifies the effect that the increased demand for walkable communities has on home prices. The study analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets provided by ZipRealty and found that in 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability, as measured by Walk Score, were directly linked to higher home values. “Homes within a walkable mile of common daily shopping and social destinations command from $4,000 to $34,000 more than similar homes in more car-centric communities.” The popularity of walkable communities with mixed-use downtown areas offers more evidence of the shift away from strip centers and malls.

Arts Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts is accepting applications for its Our Town grants, which will award $25,000 to $150,000 for creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core. Applications must reflect partnerships that involve two primary partners: a nonprofit organization and a local government entity. One of the two primary partners must be a cultural (arts or design) organization. Our Town will invest in creative and innovative projects in which communities, together with their arts and design organizations and artists, seek to improve their quality of life, encourage creative activity, create community identity and a sense of place, and revitalize local economies. Deadline: March 1, 2012. For more information, visit http://www.nea.gov/grants/apply/OurTown/index.html

Celebrating Cornbread and a Community

The Southside Main Street (SoMa) community in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, picked a winning event theme when it launched its first Arkansas Cornbread Festival this November. Anita Davis, a community advocate, organized the event around cornbread, which she sees as a unifier of people across all socio-economic, racial, religious, gender, and age backgrounds.  The festival showcased the full range of cornbread—from sweet to non-traditional to typical—which was prepared by both professionals and amateurs. The day featured 175 vendors, lots of food, cornbread samples and contests, and blues and folk music. Expecting a thousand attendees at the most, organizers were floored when 2,600 people showed up to celebrate this southern staple.

The area of South Main from Daisy Gatson Bates to 18th Street has experienced much change with the addition of a grocery store, pharmacy, shops, several restaurants and entertainment venues, and an urban garden (an amenity owned by Davis that is open to the public). Yet, many people—especially those who live and work downtown—did not realize the amenities available to them in this part of the district. The downtown neighborhood is off the beaten path, and after a popular destination restaurant closed, people wondered how the district would continue to thrive. The goal of the 2011 Arkansas Cornbread Festival was to attract people to the neighborhood; showcase its progress; and encourage visitors to return to eat, shop, and tour.

Given those goals, the festival seems like an event that the Southside Main Street (SoMa) program might head up. But the great thing is that SoMa only had a supporting role tas its partner took the lead. SoMa provided in-kind services such as printing, hauling the event trash, and making a small donation. It also promoted the event through its communication channels.

But as Hillis Schild, director of SoMa, reminds us, “every Main Street program that is successful can point to a ‘hero.’ Anita Davis is definitely ours. She was instrumental in getting our program started and served on the board for many years. She has a passion for our neighborhood and a talent for economic development.” 

Schild reports that people who hadn’t been to the district in years were surprised by the community spirit and vibrancy of the area; hopefully they will become repeat visitors. More good news? A new restaurant is moving into the space that the other restaurant vacated. The new owner sponsored the festival and is planning on focusing on Southern culture, thus bringing a heritage-based business to the district.

You can learn more at: ARCornbreadFestival.com.

Baltimore Main Streets Visits the White House

Baltimore Main Streets took part in the White House Business Leaders Briefing in December, bringing the message of Main Street revitalization and small business. The forum convened people who offered their on-the-ground perspectives about employment, economic competitiveness, and small business issues. On the topic of tough access to capital, some in the room suggested that many small businesses were seeking loans of $5,000 and up. Donna Langley, director of Baltimore Main Streets, however, countered that businesses in her neighborhood business districts are often looking for smaller amounts, which banks were not interested in funding. While some smaller towns benefit from community banks willing to loan small amounts, banks located in Baltimore Main Street districts are often larger corporations that prefer to lend businesses $300,000, not $3,000. “We need smaller loans in our Main Street districts,” says Langley. “The bigger banks just don’t have local staff members with the authority to do that underwriting.” 

Not one to just cite a problem, Langley offered an example of a local Main Street program’s solution. Realizing that small businesses in Baltimore’s Federal Hill district were turning to high-interest credit cards after access to capital began drying up when the economy took a nosedive in 2008, Federal Hill Main Street developed its own microloan program. Taking money from its annual gala and soliciting additional contributions, Federal Hill started its low-interest revolving microloan program with $9,600. The program offers loans between $500 and $3,000 with an interest rate of about 5 percent for periods of six months to three years. Giving entrepreneurs money to implement their current business model allows them to strengthen their enterprises and ultimately strengthen the entire business district. For information on this program and a bunch of related sample documents, read our Dec. 7, 2011, Story of the Week and visit our Solution Center in our member's area.

Smart Growth Models

In December, the EPA announced the winners of the 2011 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. I attended the ceremony and was wowed by this year’s winners, who have a lot in common with Main Street communities, so there are many lessons learned here for you. I encourage you to get more details about the projects and watch the videos at http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards.htm.

The 2011 winners are:

St. Louis, Missouri: Overall Excellence Award: With the Old North St. Louis Revitalization Initiative, community leaders redefined and rebuilt a historic neighborhood to attract new residents, economic growth, and much-needed amenities such as a grocery store. Preservation and reuse of historic buildings helped protect the Old North neighborhood’s distinctive character.

Normal, Illinois: Civic Places Award: The Uptown Normal Roundabout is a fantastic TOD project that fixed a messy traffic pattern while creating a pedestrian-friendly public space. The mayor told us, too, that two other things helped downtown—a solid redevelopment plan that attracted developers to community projects and a municipality that understands its role in helping make projects profitable because if business owners and developers can’t make money, they aren’t going to invest in your town.

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Smart growth and Green Building Award: Silver Gardens Apartments is the first LEED Platinum-certified, affordable housing project in the Southwest. Close to downtown, it is also near a variety of transportation options, making it easy for residents to commute to their jobs.

El Paso, Texas: Programs, Policies and      Regulations Award: Plan El Paso 2010 is a comprehensive, transit-oriented development plan that will help link neighborhoods to greater economic opportunities and to one another. It provides a blueprint for investment in new homes and jobs.

Howard, South Dakota: Rural Smart Growth Award: This town, smaller than many city high schools, revitalized its downtown and created new jobs and economic opportunities by building Maroney Commons. This green building houses a rural learning center that offers training for green energy and rural healthcare jobs, a hotel, a restaurant, and other amenities.

Resources

You’ve got to subscribe to Blue Avocado’s e-newsletter. They focus on nonprofit management issues and recently sent out a great article with tips about annual performance review processes for executive directors and provided a great evaluation form that your organization might want to use.

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities (EPA, DOT, and HUD, with USDA) released a new resource this fall called Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities. This free PDF explains how livability principles apply in rural areas and how the programs of the four agencies work in rural communities. The publication also uses case studies to show how rural communities have successfully completed sustainability projects with help from federal agencies. These project profiles are a great way to see if your community has similar projects that might be eligible for federal assistance. Profiles include Waverly, Iowa, which used technical assistance to overhaul its master plan after a flood—bringing community gardens, complete streets, and affordable housing to the community; and Maupin, Oregon, which used grant money to help an entrepreneur rehab a downtown building to house a grocery store purchased from a previous business owner.

The meeting convened by Historic Preservation League of Oregon (HPLO) to help reduce the perception that preservationists are merely the “purveyors of no” yielded a new Compatible Infill Design booklet. As PreservationNation blog post writer Brandon Spencer-Hartle says, the report and its principles refute the notion that all infill must be stylistically modernist regardless of its historic context. It calls on the National Park Service to revisit the intent of the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and to pursue standards and guidelines specific to new construction within historic contexts. The HPLO’s seven principles for new construction provide a starting point toward that end. You can download the booklet online.

National Trust Main Street Center Updates

2012 Great American Main Street Award Semifinalists Announced

Congratulations to our 2012 GAMSA semifinalists:

1. Bath, Maine

2. Charleston (East End), West Virginia

3. Culpeper, Virginia

4. Havre de Grace, Maryland

5. Jacksonville, Illinois

6. Portland, Michigan

7. Russellville, Arkansas

8. Steamboat Springs, Colorado

9. Valley Junction/West Des Moines, Iowa

10. Washington, Missouri

Find out who wins at the National Main Streets Conference in April 2012!

The National Main Streets Conference

If you haven’t been to a National Main Streets conference, you might want to pick this year as your first. Here’s the thing—many of your peers have been doing great work and have amazing ideas to share so why not take advantage of their efforts? Come to the conference and find ways to make 2012 your best year yet. We’re also excited to host our first Urban Main Street Summit and give our urban practitioners a forum for discussing their issues and the ways they apply the Main Street Approach.

What’s even more exciting is that Amy Cortese, an award-winning journalist and author of Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit from It, will be our keynote speaker. Her inspiring message will help you take “buy local first” notions to the next level with community-owned businesses, community investment initiatives, and other exciting ideas for strengthening your local economy from within.

Main Street Now “Lost” Issue

No, it’s not April Fools yet, but we do have a lost issue of Main Street Now. You aren’t crazy; you didn’t miss the November/December issue. We worked so hard to make it the best issue possible that we missed our deadline. Not to worry. Your member benefits are important to us and we will publish our regularly scheduled Main Street Now issues in 2012, plus a bonus issue later this year to make it up to you. We hope you forgive us.