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Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | February 28, 2020

We must set measurable goals if we want to make actual progress

Organizations put a lot of verbal “stuff” out there. Missions, value statements, strategic plans, visions… What does it all mean? If you ask one hundred different organizations, you will probably get one hundred different answers, but this is what a vision statement means to Emporia Main Street: it is a statement that projects what we think the community should look like if we accomplish our goals. A vision statement allows us to evaluate our activities to determine if they are supporting what we need to do in order to make our vision a reality.
Although that may sound like some verbal salad, the process to accomplish and realize a vision means that we are focused on production and achievement instead of believing that Main Street is somehow inherently valuable or that being adjacent to a worthy cause is the same as actually positively impacting local problems. Instead of focusing on “goal sharing”, functional vision statements hold us accountable for measurable progress in achieving something different from the right now. Through projecting how things will look in a decade, we are committing ourselves to disconnect from simple through-put (we had a lot of people that we provided service to), and focus on out-put (we made measurable changes that moved us closer to our vision for the region).
Our vision was compiled through surveys, listening sessions with local constituents, input from trend analysis, and directives of the volunteer Board of Directors. The statement represents a contract of sorts. These are the things we will push for, through a variety of different strategies, to ensure the growth and prosperity of the local region.

The Emporia Main Street vision statement for 2030 is as follows:
1) Emporia Main Street will utilize a four point approach to continue economic revitalization of Emporia and Lyon County in the upcoming decade.
2) We will work to enhance infrastructure and beautify downtown Emporia, ensuring that downtown has a people-centric design. This includes bikeability and walkability improvements, inappropriate facade removal, upper story developments, infill developments, and storefront revitalization.
3) Emporia Main Street will promote Emporia as a regional hub, encourage destination business development, and implement new events that engage youth.
4) We will seek out mutually beneficial partnerships, that are measurable and for the good of the region, with the goal of retaining and growing our population. Our organization will engage a broad and diverse population as volunteers and partners.
5) Emporia Main Street will incentivize business and investments that enhance the local economy and create a vibrant environment. We will seek to evolve the regional economy for jobs of the future, while strengthening our merchants for resilience in a digital world.

So, what the heck does all of that mean?
Main Street programs have a four point approach that we follow: Organization, Business Enhancement, Design, and Promotion. Those four points serve as the basis of our economic and community development initiatives. We apply those four points to a variety of initiatives throughout Lyon County.
One of our focal points is downtown Emporia. This is for two primary reasons: First, we focus on a “grow your own”/entrepreneurial strategy, and most of the businesses within the core are locally owned businesses that retain wealth in our community and act as unique destination points for people from outside our traditional market trade area. Second, we understand that density is absolutely critical to a healthy tax base. When we become less dense, we have fewer people paying for more infrastructure, and the result is either higher taxes or crumbling infrastructure (neither are good options). When people are pro-sprawl, they have a tendency to look at short term “gains” while ignoring the long term consequences of their strategy.
“People-centric Design” is in reference to new suggestions for land use and form based codes. Automotive based designs in dense areas typically waste land and generate single use building styles. We want to make sure that the renovation and build out projects of today support the sustainable development projects of tomorrow. We also recognize that the living, shopping, dining, and entertainment preferences of Millennial and Gen Z folks are vastly different than previous generations, and those preferences express themselves in the physical design of areas. At the end of this decade, Gen Z will be all over the workforce, and older Millennials will be almost fifty years old. Both generations will be substantially larger than Boomers or X’ers at that point. We need to develop accordingly.
The development of a regional hub concept already exists in certain sectors. Professional services, post secondary education, and social services are all found in Emporia by a region that extends beyond Lyon County. We want to extend the hub concept to other areas (recreation, destination shopping, entrepreneurship, finance, etc.) to draw more people in more consistently, and provide a regional lift to enhance the economy of the extended area. Emporia is relatively young (median age of 29.4) compared to surrounding counties (median ages vary from 41-44), and we must lead in youth engagement if the region hopes to retain young people.
Emporia Main Street believes in mutually beneficial partnerships. Over the past several years, we have established strong reciprocal relationships with several regional organizations to produce activities, incentives, and developments for the good of the region. Working with groups as equal partners is critical for the region. Those types of working relationships build trust and enhance outcomes. When we can engage multiple sectors of the population in activity planning and execution as equal partners, we develop a stronger community with people more likely to stay in a growing region. When we separate people into different groups based on age, ethnicity, gender, or other factors and don’t facilitate cooperative work, we fail to gain necessary insights on how we can build a better community for everyone.
We anticipate that businesses will change over the next decade, and that those changes will be fairly dramatic. Automation, web based sales platforms, shared economies, and global competition will alter the landscape for local jobs and the tax base. Certain business types are more survivable in a rapidly evolving economy, and we have to incentivise and train targeted entrepreneurs to create home grown jobs and diversify our regional economy. Economic diversity is going to be critically important over the next decade to create higher paying jobs and guard against job losses from concentrated employment centers.

All of that sounds pretty good, but how do we get there?
To improve density we will need to train and develop more property developers that can fully utilize commercial buildings (all floors) through market identification, alternative finance, and cooperative investment. We will need to develop additional small businesses in building trades, and generate pipelines for students in the region to learn about building trades. We will need to split entrepreneurial training programs into lifestyle based training (restaurant, retail, traditional service) and tech/product based entrepreneurial training to fill spaces with appropriate commercial entities. We will need to build investment conduits that allow for people in the region to join with traditional financial institutions in the capitalization of business startups and expansions.
We will need to work with area architects and elected officials to produce elevation drawings that serve as an example of appropriate development, and produce mock financial projections to showcase feasibility of appropriate development styles. By working with local government in a facilitation role, we can expedite development timelines while ensuring quality projects that are initiated by local citizens.
When working with surrounding cities and counties, we need to clearly answer what is “in it” for each group working together. We all need to understand that if our region continues to act in a non-unified manner, our smaller communities that feed the Emporia economy will dry up, and if smaller communities can work cooperatively with Emporia we may be able to stabilize regional populations and offer a pathway to growth. The symbiotic nature of our relationship must be clearly stated. If we want our areas to retain youth, we must embrace the ideas, values, wants, and needs of youth that are willing to make a life in a rural environment. We can’t expect our youth to adapt to us. We must adapt to them, and the easiest way to facilitate our evolution is to give youth a real seat at the table when making community decisions.
We will expand the types of entrepreneurial training available in the local area, and seek blended educational/production environments with local institutions that are embedded in core areas. We will identify new resources to encourage existing business growth, successful business transitions, and the establishment of new businesses that intersect with evolving market demands and projected consumer trends. We will establish investment conduits that enable the types of entrepreneurial businesses, residential housing, and commercial/mixed use developments necessary for our region to thrive. We will focus on providing existing businesses with the information and training necessary to grow in a rapidly evolving retail and service landscape.

What will the area look like in 2030 if we accomplish the goals identified within our vision?
In 2030, we hope to have a denser community that has successfully redeveloped several dilapidated or underutilized areas. New entrepreneurial programs have diversified our economy, and created both higher paying and more skilled job opportunities that retain our youth and invite those that have left back home. A comparison between 2020 and 2030 should show a growing population that is younger and has a higher median household income. Emporia should be a hub of entrepreneurial and educational activities that supports our own community, as well as the “grow your own” mentality of surrounding counties. We should have entities that act as conduits for local citizens (and alumni of the area) to invest in business and building development, thus generating and retaining wealth in the local area.
The culmination of these initiatives will enhance a strong pull factor and establish a recognizable and positive brand for the region. Our local leadership will be inclusive of all demographic groups, age ranges, and positive ideologies within the area. We will be more project oriented in community involvement, and less subject to hierarchical systems. The impact of newer technology will alter every segment of our employment base, but preparation of existing businesses and tools for emerging entrepreneurs will mitigate net negative impacts while generating new business opportunities.

This will not be easy.
We will need your help to accomplish this vision. We need new volunteers, new entrepreneurs, new ideas, and we need to integrate all of those with our existing businesses, supporters, events, and initiatives that have created our current region. This isn’t about eliminating the good things our community currently has; this vision is about accepting the fact that continued evolution is necessary to keep positive momentum. If you haven’t been involved in Main Street before, there is no time like the present. If you are a current volunteer, we will ask that you WORK with us to accomplish the 2030 vision.

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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