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The Next Vision

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | April 18, 2019
Emporia Main Street separates development strategies into a series of visions that last about a decade.  The declarative vision statements set priorities within organizational work planning to achieve standards set by the membership and area stakeholders.  While that sounds like a lot of buzz words, what it really means is that all of you set targets for us to achieve, we work to qualify them by setting metrics (risks, rewards, likelihood, resources needed), and then we constantly work (and rework) initiatives to push the implementation of the vision.  If the process works correctly, we should see movement on the initial statement that requires revision for a future vision.


Not everything from a vision will be achieved to our satisfaction, because vision statements should require organizations to stretch themselves.  A vision statement shouldn’t involve self congratulatory statements (we are the leader in…), but should solidify an organizational position through the achievement of the standards set within the vision statement.  For example, the 2020 Vision Statement for Emporia Main Street was:


Vision 2020 Emporia Main Street: “shaping the future of  Emporia and Lyon County using re-development, rehabilitation and in-fill in the town center; making downtown a destination for dining, shopping, and entertainment; and facilitating traffic flow (pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle).”
The word “shaping” is used in the world of business to describe innovative processes that create industry changes.  In other words, our vision required us to do things differently to achieve different results.  The mixture of types of development was a difficult discussion.  Some communities simply “tear everything down” and start over.  Some communities require that “nothing changes” in pursuit of preservation.  Other communities see vacant lots as something that is an unfortunate but unavoidable eyesore.  Our vision charged us with pursuing three different development strategies simultaneously.  The charge of “facilitating traffic flow” required us to rethink the business mix downtown, prioritize housing, and emphasize gap financing to push business hours later and pursue newer business types.  A decade ago, the bicycle and pedestrian traffic patterns were very different downtown than they are today, but we are still in the process of adjusting our business economy to reflect modern realities and prepare for future shopping trends.
The vision coincides with our organizational mission:
Mission: Emporia Main Street, Inc. is a non-profit agency committed to increasing consumer business, strengthening retail and professional institutions, assisting in the preservation and maintenance of the community’s heritage and promoting pride in the community’s institutions and achievements through design, promotion, business enhancement and organization committees.
We achieve the vision objectives, while staying true to our mission by adhering to a “Four Point Approach”, which forces us to look at issues through four different lenses (basically perspectives) that provide a more holistic approach to community and economic development.  The Four Point approach is applied through our four standing committees:
Business Enhancement strengthens a community’s existing economic assets while expanding and diversifying its economic base. The Main Street program helps sharpen the competitiveness of existing business owners and recruits compatible new businesses and new economic uses to build a commercial district that responds to today’s consumers’ needs. Converting unused or underused commercial space into economically productive property also helps boost the profitability of the district.
Design means getting Main Street into top physical shape. Capitalizing on its best assets – such as historic buildings and pedestrian-oriented streets – is just part of the story. An inviting atmosphere, created through attractive window displays, parking areas, building improvements, street furniture, signs, sidewalks, street lights, and landscaping, conveys a positive visual message about the commercial district and what it has to offer. Design activities also include instilling good maintenance practices in the commercial district, enhancing the physical appearance of the commercial district by rehabilitating historic buildings, encouraging appropriate new construction, developing sensitive design management systems, and long-term planning.
Promotion sells a positive image of the commercial district and encourages consumers and investors to live, work, shop, play and invest in the Main Street district. By marketing a district’s unique characteristics to residents, investors, business owners, and visitors, an effective promotional strategy forges a positive image through advertising, retail promotional activity, special events, and marketing campaigns carried out by local volunteers. These activities improve consumer and investor confidence in the district and encourage commercial activity and investment in the area.
Organization establishes consensus and cooperation by building partnerships among the various groups that have a stake in main street. This will allow the Main Street Revitalization Program to provide effective, ongoing management and advocacy. Diverse groups from the public and private sectors (city and county governments, local bankers, merchants, property owners, community leaders, and others) must work together to create and maintain a successful program.
To help us set our next vision, we ask a series of questions to jump start conversations that are distilled into a vision statement that will guide our organizational directives and work planning for the next decade.  Those questions are:
What design or aesthetic improvements should be made to Emporia (and our core) over the next decade?
What promotions or events would you like to see, start, or grow in Emporia over the next decade?
What are some ways we could help business start, sustain, and grow over the next decade?
What are some business types you would like to see or start in Emporia?
How should we encourage community pride and volunteerism?
How can Emporia Main Street adapt to help the community grow over the next decade?
From the perspective of people outside our Market Trade Area (outside Lyon County), what should our economic brand represent over the next ten years? (what would make people want to consistently travel to Emporia?)
We will work to qualify statements because the vision will need to intersect with a time frame in the future.  When most people are asked questions like the ones listed above, they tend to think in historical terms (when I was younger, we had X, so I think we should have X again), versus a thought process rooted in projecting adaptations to take advantage of societal, economic, and technological changes.
After we have identified common themes, and qualified statements, the difficult work begins.  The work isn’t just difficult for us; the work of implementing a community vision is dependent on the work and investment of the entire community.  If, for example, the community determines that they want a unique toy store, someone has to open and run a profitable business that satisfies the community needs (and that the community consistently supports with their spending dollars).  Saying “I want” doesn’t mean a lot if people aren’t willing to step up and make things happen.
So, we encourage you to take the survey, and help us determine what you want your community to look like in ten years.

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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