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The Meaning of Membership

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | June 13, 2017
The concept of “joining” means vastly different things to different generations.  The Baby Boomer generation had committee upon committee, and social organization upon social organization that created a fairly hierarchical community approach. Members of Generation X typically hate meetings, and they prefer the more organic approach of coming together to achieve something specific and actionable.  The Millennial Generation is still carving out their niche where “joining” is concerned, but their grasp of technology when coupled with individualism makes for a unique membership culture.  All three of these generations constitute the fabric of the current business and social culture of the region, with another membership close behind.  The question “why join?” may mean different things to different generations, groups or interests, but there are some similarities in answers when relating to Main Street.
We can talk about individual services that uniquely apply to individual organizations, but those services are as diverse as our membership.  The following are some general reasons why your support of Emporia Main Street makes sense:
1.  We assist in creating the unique elements that Emporia is known for.  If you talk to people in the region (or former residents) about what Emporia was known for twenty years ago, you will find a vastly different community concept.  Within the newer brand identity of Emporia, you will find Emporia Main Street at the core.  We aren’t talking about a “we probably had something to do with it” – Emporia Main Street funded businesses, created new funding/educational opportunities, started community related event expansions, sent information to media, created new programs for existing holidays and made physical community changes that have resulted in those “uniquely Emporian” attributes that others can identify as defining brand characteristics.  We continue to press the establishment of defining elements every day through our diverse program of work.
2.  We aren’t afraid to tackle tough (occasionally controversial) issues for the good of the region.  Things like the Community Initiated Development Plan (CID), the Veterans Banner Project, the Historic District, infill developments, street based beer gardens, zero interest loans, temporary event based street closures, tax credit sales, upper story housing and many other initiatives were controversial when Main Street began pushing the concepts.  These things have been, on balance, very good for the community.  Staying neutral on everything, regardless of the good or harm that it can do a community, is a surefire way to create community regression.  We certainly don’t look for controversy, but we aren’t afraid to push for initiatives that move our region forward.
3.  The financing options we have created help businesses start and grow (and that’s good for the region).  Emporia Main Street has now loaned out over $1,000,000 in zero interest loans. We’ve worked with local volunteers/donors to sell tax credits that result in a Lyon County loan pool for businesses, and we have worked with state and federal agencies in an attempt to procure grants for local businesses in expansion mode.  We have established grants for training “destination” style businesses, and have created training mechanisms with reasonable cost structures (like the Start Your Own Business Class or social media workshops) to make businesses more effective and improve success rates.
4.  Community pride is an understated asset that we help foster.  We’ve been told on numerous occasions that that one of the first things a corporation does when considering a community is drive through downtown.  We know that individuals considering positions at ESU or Newman Regional Health look at our community core as a deciding factor before accepting a job (because we host people from both agencies, and more, on visits). Events like Mix and Match or groups like Connect Emporia help facilitate pride from new residents that improves retention rates.  Giving people unique activities to participate in and unique businesses to shop/dine at, helps retain citizens and gain new people to the area.
5.  Our work creates opportunities for others.  The number of local businesses and non-profits that depend on Main Street events is impressive. Simply having vibrant locally owned businesses improves the community’s ability to support various non-profit agencies.  Successful businesses create business opportunities for other local professionals, supply companies and advertisers. When Main Street helps businesses and events start or expand, several people “win”.
6.  We are based on metrics, not rhetoric.  Emporia Main Street works to collect data from the local area on a quarterly basis.  We look at permit values, businesses started, buildings sold, Main Street event impacts, jobs created that utilize our programs and a variety of other concrete data points.  You don’t have to wonder if our processes are working, because we have the numbers that detail the effects of our efforts.  Because we update numbers quarterly, we are constantly pushed to create new opportunities instead of simply relying on the “wins” of yesterday.
7.  The concepts we promote are showing success.  Talk to people that haven’t been to Emporia in a while, and they constantly cite the positive changes that they SEE. We aren’t perfect, and there are always things we need to improve, but seeing is believing.  Whether we are hosting a few thousand people at a block party, honoring our veterans with a banner project, working with developers on the newest building concept or funding the newest community business, there are visible signs of Emporia Main Street’s work to make this region more successful.
8.  A local focus matters.  We know that locally owned businesses donate a higher percentage of their gross sales back to the community, they use other local businesses more often, and they retain wealth in the region.  No, the little local business generally doesn’t start out with 250 employees, but they can’t ever grow to that point without local support.  Some of the largest locally owned businesses in Emporia started or expanded with resources provided by Emporia Main Street, and that local focus on helping area entrepreneurs succeed has positive implications for the entire region.  If you look at local foundations, they are typically named after a successful local entrepreneur.  A lot of our local “named” buildings/agencies received their name from a local business person.  During some of the most successful periods of Emporia’s history, our community was led by local entrepreneurs.  A local focus is important to pull dollars into our cities and retain them in our region.
9.  A culture of “doing” is critical to communities of our size.  Smaller communities can’t just talk about ideas- they have to push for implementation.  We can have difficult conversations and communicate around a board room table until the cows come home, but somebody has to do something or the talking is all for naught.  One of the great things about Emporia Main Street is that we are made up of countless volunteers and just two full time staff members, so simply sitting around and talking isn’t an option.  Volunteers drop off if they don’t see action and staff members simply don’t have time for endless meetings that don’t produce results.  Community members often tell us that if they want to actually get something done, they come to Emporia Main Street.  Your membership facilitates that “doing” process the generates real community results.
10.  Our community wins through differentiation, not sameness.  No one leaves the Taco Bell in hes/her community to visit our Taco Bell.  It’s rare that people will leave their (insert generic community parade) to come to our (insert generic community parade).  To create pride and pull in traffic, we have to focus on things that make us different than our surrounding competitors.  Emporia Main Street works hard to develop destination businesses and event concepts that can draw outside dollars into our area.  Without those unique activities and entrepreneurs, it’s difficult to create a marketing message that resonates with other larger regional population bases.
Simply put, Emporia Main Street is Where Emporia Happens.  We have individuals, businesses and organizations throughout Emporia and beyond that belong to an organization dedicated to improving our community, with deeds to back up our words.  We would appreciate the opportunity to continue our partnership as we collectively and sustainably grow our region.

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.


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