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2014 In Review At Emporia Main Street

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | June 29, 2015

Emporia Main Street is a results oriented organization.  The culture of measurable activities that push for community growth has been fostered by you, our membership, since the inception of the program in 1991.  Each year, we look back briefly to assess what was accomplished during the calendar year, and we utilize your feedback to help determine how to improve in future years.  So, let’s cover some of what the volunteers of Emporia Main Street accomplished in 2014.  You ask us to constantly push the envelope, so let’s just look at the new things accomplished in 2014, and we’ll cover everything else in a January newsletter.

E-Community – Emporia Main Street worked with Network Kansas to establish the Lyon County E-Community.  This zero interest loan fund can be used anywhere in Lyon County, and $96,000 were loaned out of the account in 2014 for one business start up and two business expansions.  The majority of the loan funds were issued outside of downtown, but within the city limits of Emporia.

Tanker Tough – Emporia Main Street worked with the Freedom Fest Committee to establish an obstacle course following the traditional Freedom Fest bike ride and 5K.  Freedom Fest funds go to support the local All Veteran’s Memorial.  Tanker Tough funds help families of local deployed reserve unit members.  The event raised $1,000 to assist local families in the first year.

Preservation Conference –  Emporia served as the host city for the Kansas Preservation Alliance for the first time.  We helped coordinate speakers, venues and other conference activities.  Members of the KPA were impressed with what Emporia has to offer, and we were assured the conference will be back in Emporia soon.

How It’s Made Tour –  This new event introduces community members to businesses that actually produce items.  Our first tour consisted of Complete Works, The Sweet Granada and Uncommon Threads.  Participants saw an increase in business as a function of their improved exposure, and the most popular question among consumers was “when can we do this again?”

Veteran’s Banners – After Ron Slaymaker and Dr. Kevin Coulson brought the concept of lamp post banners that honored active duty personnel in military base communities, Emporia Main Street partnered with the Freedom Fest Committee to “tweak” the concept to highlight veterans and reach out to the community for sponsors.  We hoped for forty banner sponsors, and we ended up with 104.  The City of Emporia helped us procure more banner brackets, the Public Works Department did an amazing job placing banners and improving infrastructure and the local media helped get the word out.  Social Media buzz led to regional news stories and national attention.  Over 30,000 people were reached on social media platforms about the project, people visited downtown Emporia from other states to view the banners and we have an extensive waiting list for next years expansion of the project.

Shop Hop – The concept of a quick retail based event that utilized lanyards was brought to us by Gwen Longbine, who saw a similar event in Lawrence.  Shop Hops are a new tool that gives us the opportunity to pull in participants of local conferences, reunions or other activities and converts visitors to shoppers.

Community Initiated Development Plan Adoption – The CID process started in 2006, but the downtown master plan component was adopted by the City of Emporia in 2014.  The recommendations within the plan are designed to increase development and improve the community core.  Less than a year old, the CID plan already has it’s first “win” with a $4.5 million development project, and others on the way.

Historic Playing Cards – Special Projects Coordinator, Lauren Woolard, developed a series of sponsorship driven historic playing cards designed to improve community pride and showcase local history and architecture.  Even though a VERY large quantity of the cards were ordered, we are almost completely out of stock, making this a very successful promotional idea.
Flint Hills Economic Development District formation –  After a few years of planning, the City of Emporia and Lyon County are now a part of a regional approach to economic development.  Emporia Main Street staff is part of the Executive Committee for the FHEDD, and we anticipate some exciting developments from this organization in 2015.
In the News – Emporia Main Street and Main Street activities were featured in two major news publications this year.  Both Parade Magazine and the Wall Street Journal featured positive news stories.  Parade focused on downtown redevelopment in Emporia, and the Wall Street Journal highlighted our first successful crowdfunding activity with Radius Brewing Company.
New Events – Downtown event activities continue to grow, and community members flock to the heart of their community for new events.  Emporia Main Street was able to work with Hispanics of Today and Tomorrow (HOTT) to bring Cinco de Mayo activities downtown for the first time.  Cinco de Mayo was on the same day as the Glass Blown Open Block Party (that continues to grow) and the two events will see more blending in 2015.  We assisted with the Trilogy Open Disc Golf Tournament, sponsored by Dynamic Discs and, with new ownership involved in Flint Hills Music, we saw the return of Live in the Lot.

New Businesses and Developments – Although we will focus on new businesses with our quarterly reporting in January, we saw some major movement on establishing new market trending this year.  Radius Brewing Company opened, Dynamic Discs added a 20,000 square foot distribution facility, SEARS occupied a large vacant historic building, new gift shops like the Little Red Rooster opened, clothing options like Studio 50-4 and Rockin’ Accessories expanded and more Start Your Own Business graduates, like the owners of the Disciple Shoppe, moved into store fronts.  Store fronts were remodeled, necessary aesthetic repair work was completed and a major new development (the Chelsea Lofts) was announced.  We will focus more on economic impacts in a January e-news.

New studies resulted in new community tools – Research conducted by Emporia Main Street Intern Hillary Becker helped create a basis for the Chronically Vacant Property Ordinance passed by the City of Emporia.  An economics student from Emporia State University helped create a gravity based market model that better defines our market opportunities.  We started a new research project with Emporia State University in 2014 that could give our area a competitive advantage by enhancing crowd funding efforts.

Upper Story Enhancements – A LOT of upper story window coverings were removed this year, old lamp posts were painted, alleys were cleaned up, dilapidated housing was removed (and is still being removed) and entire facades were revitalized.  For those people that have been gone for a while, we hear a lot of “wow” comments.  We have a long way to go aesthetically, but we’ve come a long way.

We are undoubtedly leaving some new things out, but I hope this brief list shows that we are working hard to innovate and push new projects through that benefit the area.  Emporia Main Street volunteers donated over 12,000 man hours last year at a variety of events and activities to generate new economic vitality.  What were your favorite “new” items?  What can we do better?  What are your ideas to make 2015 more successful?  Contact the Emporia Main Street office and share your thoughts, because we work for you!
See this year in review and MUCH more in this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.