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Information from the Main Street Now Conference that we can use in our region.

Jessica Buchholz by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | June 2, 2022
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It has been two years since Main Street America was able to host their national conference due to pandemic protocols. Staff and volunteers were able to attend this year’s Main Street NOW event last week in Richmond, Virginia and we always attempt to convey information learned at training sessions to our community at large post-event. Over the next several weeks our newsletter will cover several different strategies, funding opportunities (for businesses, development, and housing), and best practices for regions like Lyon County. The following are some basic overview notes that we will expand upon as funding initiatives crystalize:
Sparking Transformation by developing tech hubs in rural regions
Rural regions throughout the United States are focusing on tech entrepreneurship in their downtowns. The strategic rationale for the emphasis on tech startups in the cores of communities is clear: Many tech entrepreneurs need consistent exposure to other entrepreneurs in a walkable environment with a mix of uses. Tech businesses like walking down the street to the coffee shop, bar, co-working space, entertainment outlets, retail shops, etc. “Walkabouts” can inspire new business concepts and small startups can partner with other entrepreneurs to build up customer bases and products.
The push for tech hubs over the past six or seven years is also clear: rural communities are particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of automation, and there is a ticking clock for regional innovation. In the next fifteen to twenty years, the jobs available will look drastically different. Repetitive motion jobs, many forms of standardized communication occupations, and some transportation occupations are particularly susceptible to automation and artificial intelligence. When coupled with changes in energy priorities, the increased size of singular agricultural operations, and internet based competition; regional planners understand that economic diversification is essential to community sustainability and growth. The following are notes and links from the session:
New tech is interested in walkable environments where people can take advantage of products and services.
Infrastructure and support spending by governing bodies is often offered to get the tech business located in the core, thereby supporting additional tech startup development and reinforcing customer traffic/disposable income for pre-existing local businesses. For example, $500k in infrastructure upgrades were made by the local governing body of South Boston, VA (population 7,700) to generate a tech hub by Microsoft and SOVA.
A Microsoft data center and training program was coupled with a Gener8er Skills program to facilitate the creation of higher paying tech jobs in the rural Virginia area. The training programs initially focused on training people to work for existing tech companies in the greater region (South Boston, VA is about an hour and a half from much larger communities with established tech companies). Over the past few years, additions to support tech entrepreneurship have been added to facilitate home-grown growth. Additional information on the project can be found at Sovainnovationhub.com 
Regions need long term vision and tech based planning to generate technology focused businesses. Tech jobs are typically higher paying occupations that can retain area youth and recapture former residents. Physical spacing for hubs in rural areas often have an anchor tenant with additional spacing for other tech startups, training for locals, and can contain support areas for remote workers.
Many rural communities understand the need for diversified entrepreneurship platforms which improve collaboration between traditional businesses and tech inclusive startups. The collaborations can lead to changes in existing business models that can lead to additional profitability, sustainability and growth while also supporting new tech business startups. Additional strategic information for the project can be found at sovarise.com and mbc-va.com

Shark Tank— Main Street Style
Main Street communities all over the nation are starting to adjust their entrepreneurial pitch competitions. For years, the focus of competitions was on theoretical businesses that honed a persons business speaking skills but rarely resulted in actual businesses opened. With limited resources, communities (and some forward thinking states) have started competitions for startups or scalable business types.
The state of Iowa talked about their scalable entrepreneur competition that occurs on a state wide basis through their state Main Street program. For profit existing businesses can compete for dollars to aid in expansions. Their state allocates $75,000 in grants that are awarded in amounts between $8,000 and $28,000 dollars.
Applicants must be “for profit”, produce a video outlining their scalable plan, and (if selected) participate in a state live pitch event in front of an audience. During the selection process, participating businesses are coached on their scalable plans, and funds are distributed to offset identified business expenses associated specifically with expansion activities.
More information on the Open 4 Business competition in Iowa can be found by CLICKING HERE.

Microsoft TechSpark Empowering Rural Communities
 Large tech companies realize that digital talent exists outside of silicon valley or large metropolitan areas. Leveraging rural talent is necessary to encourage innovation, but many rural communities don’t engage digital skilling as a function of their economic and regional development plans.
We had the opportunity to engage with individuals from rural Wyoming, smaller communities from eastern Washington state, and North Dakota to learn about digital initiatives in their regions through Microsoft’s TechSpark.
Imbedded tech programming in rural communities focused on adding skilling platforms to enhance job potential for local citizens while also aiding for profits and non-profits in tech integration. Microsoft hired local people to make connections within the area, create accelerators to aid in tech entrepreneurial development, and plan to create unique tech enclaves that took advantage of local resources.
Eastern Washington had access to low cost power and used that asset to develop data centers with high tech jobs attached. Rural Wyoming understood that coal jobs were disappearing and they diversified their economy by adding cryptography specialists and focusing on digital finance. North Dakota reached out to underserved Native American populations to engage technology customer service training to facilitate remote tech industry job placements.
TechSpark officials worked with local citizens to enhance tech entrepreneurship by utilizing programs like Gener8or for gBeta cohorts.  Accelerator programs prepared local entrepreneurs for funding round asks through local and national tech resources.
After startup, tech officials worked closely with local school officials to emphasize computer training and digital skilling with area students. Economic development efforts emphasized diversification of the local economy through tech entrepreneur development, and school systems backfilled new job opportunities created through entrepreneurial endeavors with new digitally focused school training.
What does all of this mean for Emporia and Lyon County?
When Emporia Main Street participates in training sessions, we engage learning opportunities to bring resources home. Would you like to help us build up any of the programs you read about above? Contact Emporia Main Street and lets work together to evolve our entrepreneurial ecosystem with new tools!

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.

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