By Bill Brunelle
Small businesses represent the building blocks of the U.S. economy, but they also provide an important foundation for local culture and community. From Local First groups and downtown improvement districts to independent business alliances — Main Street organizations work together to highlight the unique qualities that make their community’s vibrant places to live, work and visit. Now, during the America’s Main Streets Contest, communities can turn the spotlight back on their Main Street groups, for the chance to jumpstart downtown investment.
Each year, the America’s Main Streets Contest recognizes one Main Street organization for its commitment to the community. Small business owners, local residents and others can nominate their local Main Street group for the chance to win more than $25,000 in cash and related prizes for downtown improvement projects. Supported by national sponsors STIHL Inc., Do it Best Corp., Nationwide Marketing Group, the North American Retail Hardware Association, PPG Paints and Flip this Town, the America’s Main Streets Contest brings national attention to local revitalization and economic development programs. Last year, people cast more than 200,000 votes to help decide the winning program — Bridge Street Ashtabula in northeast Ohio.
If you’re not already familiar with Main Street organizations, now is the perfect time to learn more. On the path to local preservation and economic development, these groups offer useful benefits to their small business members such as cross-promotion opportunities, branding materials and local advocacy.
Local Main Street organizations will connect you with other small businesses in the community. Through those connections, you can brainstorm new ideas, cover more ground with campaigns and get more people talking about your business. By participating in annual community events and helping to establish new local traditions, your local Main Street organization can introduce you to new customers, partners and supporters. It’s a way to make your small business feel just a little bit bigger.
In addition to building your network, your local Main Street organization can help you build your brand. Main Street groups typically offer their members valuable promotional opportunities, such as a free listing in the organization’s small business directory, social media graphics, customizable point-of-sale materials and group discounts on local media advertising.
This support helps small businesses tap into the community’s buy local brand and reach new channels with marketing efforts. In the modern retail environment, success requires an omnichannel marketing approach that spans online, in-store and traditional media. While many small businesses struggle with implementing and maintaining such a broad marketing strategy, the resources from your local Main Street organization can make it as simple as sharing a buy local Facebook post or downloading a press release template.
Platform for Advocacy
Is there an issue in your community that matters to you? A new development that could threaten your business? A new tax incentive that would help your bottom line? By joining your local Main Street organization, you can find opportunities to make your voice heard. That’s because Main Street organizations don’t just provide services to members — they also advocate on behalf of the entire small business community.
For example, the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) in Texas successfully advocated for $500,000 in public funding for local business marketing and programming. AIBA members worked with other local organizations to support the initiative and then spoke directly to the Austin City Council ahead of its vote on the funding. In 2017, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to fund local business marketing and programming with an existing hotel occupancy tax.
Simply put, Main Street organizations work. The time and effort you invest in the organization will bring prosperity to your community and its economy. Main Street programs across the country have driven more than $74 billion in reinvestment, helped create more than 614,000 jobs and launched more than 138,000 businesses since 1980, according to the National Main Street Center. For every dollar that a participating community spent on its Main Street program in 2017, the National Main Street Center estimates $26.43 of investment also occurred.
Similarly, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) has previously found that Main Street organizations correspond with higher revenue growth, increased local media coverage, greater support from local officials and more customer loyalty. In 2016, ILSR reported data from more than 3,000 independent businesses, showing that independent businesses located in a community with an active Main Street organization measured average revenue growth of 7.4 percent, compared with just 4.2 percent for independent businesses located elsewhere.
With their seasonal events and creative campaigns, Main Street organizations make the community a more vibrant place to live, work and visit. They drum up enthusiasm for small businesses and local traditions, getting residents excited about the downtown district and all it has to offer. In this way, they keep people rooted in the community and draw in visitors from other parts of the country. That means more potential customers for your business and more prosperity for the entire region.
To celebrate your local Main Street organization, submit a nomination to the America’s Main Streets Contest through April 21. Then, continue to vote for your Main Street group to get closer to the $25,000 cash grand prize. The winner of this year’s title will be announced on June 3. You can submit your nomination and vote online at www.mainstreetcontest.com.
Bill Brunelle is co-founder of Independent We Stand, a cause-marketing campaign sponsored by STIHL, Do it Best Corp., PPG Paints and Nationwide Marketing Group, which is dedicated to educating communities about the importance and strong economic benefits of supporting locally owned businesses. Independent We Stand inspires small business owners across the country to celebrate their locally owned status and help consumers understand the importance of supporting them. For more information, visit www.independentwestand.org. On Twitter at www.twitter.com/IndWeStand.