BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – The president of Main Street Alabama said the organization may be seen as a “downtown revitalization” entity, but it’s really an economic development outfit.
Speaking to the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham at its annual meeting at the McWane Science Center Wednesday, Helmer said Main Street Alabama uses tools like design, marketing, historic preservation and education but the real goal is to add jobs and grow the economies of downtowns and communities.
For instance, historic preservation alone is not enough, she said.
“Having an empty building is bad,” Helmer said. “Having a pretty empty building is still bad.”
Main Street Alabama uses its four-point approach to helps communities with organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. A tiered process can give communities initial training, progress to creating a downtown network and then onto becoming a designated Main Street.
Why all of the emphasis on downtowns?
Whether they are in large cities or small towns, downtown areas often account for 30 percent of jobs and up to 40 percent of the tax base of a community, Helmer said.
Nurturing businesses to start or grow downtown, therefore, can become long-term successes.
Working with entrepreneurs is one area Main Street Alabama helps communities, she said.
“Entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do,” Helmer said. “In my experience, entrepreneurs almost never have business experience and they never have money.”
Main Street can help those entrepreneurs in areas where they may be lacking so they can put the passion to work for themselves and their community, she said.
Downtowns can’t usually count on major economic development projects like a Mercedes-Benz auto plant or an Airbus jet factory, but they can get the small businesses that can be just as vital, Helmer said.
“We all like the homeruns,” she said. “But what really makes a community grow are the singles, the doubles and the triples.”
February 27, 2014