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Author: Christine Schilke

CSMC Webinar: Funding Your Main Street – CT Small Business Boost Fund

CMSC Webinar

Funding Your Main Street: CT Small Business Boost Program

Webinar Summary

The Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund is a new resource for Connecticut’s small businesses supported by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

With loans ranging from $5,000 – $500,000, no origination fees, a low interest rate, and a focus on underserved business owners, the CT Small Business Boost Fund is a flexible program with quick turnaround that can help many Main Street businesses get the capital they need.

It is funded through a public-private partnership, with funds provided by the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) and six private banks.


Presentation Highlights

  • How the loans work

    Kevin Gremse, NDC

    • NDC is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that provides lending for the CT Small Business Boost Program. The program is public/private partnership, meaning it is capitalized by a combination of state and private bank funds. This type of loan model is active in 18 states throughout the country.
      • There are currently six CT banks funding the program: M&T Bank, Key Bank, First Republic Bank, Webster Bank, and Citizens Bank.
      • The loan program is expected to be active for the next 3-5 years. The state’s investment is $75 million, the banks are providing at least $75 million.
    • The loans are aimed at helping small businesses and non-profits in distressed areas, and those owned by women and minorities (MWBE). It’s also targeted to businesses that need smaller loans between $5,000-$150,000. Larger loans of $150,000-500,000 are limited to 10% of the loan portfolio.
      • There are 25 distressed communities in CT, as designated by DECD. The aim is to have at least half of the loans go to businesses in these areas.
    • To date, the CDFI’s have provided about 110 loans totaling $16 million. The average loan over the last 3 months was approximately $150,000 but will likely go down over the coming months as the volume of loans increases.
      • Of the 7 CDFI lenders, 4 are CT-based; 3 are based in other state but have experience in this type of lending and so were brought in as lenders.
      • Businesses can choose which CDFI they want to work with. The application is centralized through one platform no matter which lender the business works with.
    • A key part of the program is aligning technical assistance with capital assistance. In CT, the main technical assistance provider is the Small Business Development Center.
  • Technical assistance for businesses

    Scott Arnold, SBDC

    • This loan is designed to reach businesses in areas that weren’t reached through DECD’s prior Business Express lending program.
    • The technical assistance offered through the Small Business Boost Fund is free, confidential and professional.
    • There are 3 types of assistance offered: pre-loan, packaging (during) the loan, and post-loan assistance.
      • SBDC will help applicants determine their eligibility, understand the program details and conditions, provide business templates, understand required documentation, review their loan package, and more.
      • They’ll also help businesses consider whether they can repay the loan, even if they’re eligible for the funds.
  • A Main Street Perspective

    Carl Rosa, Connecticut Main Street Center

    • Small Main Street businesses can use the loan funds for a variety of purposes including creating a marketing plan that addresses social media, websites or setting up online sales.
    • Restaurants can use the funds to update their décor, kitchen equipment or outdoor seating.
    • Retail businesses can use the funds for expanding inventory, new equipment, enhancing displays, updating point of sale technology, business security systems, or expanding product lines, etc.
    • Service-based or non-profit businesses can use the funds for leasehold renovations, new software systems, or new websites.
    • It’s best to talk with your Main Street businesses to see what they need, suggest possible uses and discuss whether the Small Business Boost Fund is a good fit for them.
  • Additional Questions

    • Can businesses not in distressed areas utilize the funds?
      • Yes, up to half of the loans will be available to businesses in non-distressed areas.
    • Is the funding only available to brick-and-mortar businesses?
      • No, small online businesses (non brick-and-mortar) are also eligible for the funds.
    • Can SBDC help small businesses obtain Minority or Women Business Owned certification?
      • Yes, they can help them achieve WMBE certification.

View the Recording


About the Presenters

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Town of Mansfield Seeks Lead, Environmental Planners

The Town of Mansfield is seeking qualified candidates for two positions, Lead Planner & Environmental Planner.

  • Lead Planner – This position is accountable for performing highly complex, professional and technical work in the administration of the Town’s planning and development program. This position is responsible for coordinating the development, design, implementation, and monitoring of long-range, highly technical and critical planning having town-wide or regional impact.
  • Environmental Planner – This position is responsible for independently performing intermediate to complex, professional and technical work in the administration of planning and natural resources management activities. This class is also accountable for performing a full range of tasks in the technical review and analysis of environmental program data and issues, developing recommendations for courses of action and assisting with the implementation of policy and program decisions.

Find both position descriptions and apply on the Town of Mansfield website.

Towns of Bolton, Coventry, Mansfield & Tolland Develop New Regional Tourism Brand: Connecticut’s Countryside

Towns of Bolton, Coventry, Mansfield & Tolland Develop New Regional Tourism Brand: Connecticut’s Countryside – Adventure, Agriculture, Arts & More

December 3, 2022

The Towns of Bolton, Coventry, Mansfield, and Tolland are launching a new logo and brand positioning – Connecticut’s Countryside – that reflects the strengths of the four-town region to encourage visitors and support business growth.

Connecticut’s Countryside was selected from three potential brand concepts evaluated as part of a community input process, including a widely distributed survey. The Connecticut Countryside brand was the clear favorite and will be used in marketing the region. Dornenburg Kallenbach Advertising (DKA), the firm who designed the brand, also created a corresponding marketing implementation plan to guide the efforts to promote the region.

An Action Plan for Economic Vitality prepared in 2020 by AdvanceCT, in collaboration with the CT Department of Community & Economic Development, determined that the region has a significant opportunity as a desirable destination to dine, shop and play, based upon its distinctive combination of resources across the four towns. These resources include outdoor recreation, agriculture and agri-tourism, culture and entertainment, higher education institutions, and small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

This new collective brand for the region as a destination will be a supplement to each individual Town’s marketing, and will not replace each individual Town’s logo or branding


About Connecticut Main Street Center

CMSC is the expert resource for developing and sustaining vibrant downtowns that fuel our state’s prosperity. Our mission is to assess, educate, convene, and advocate to develop and grow our traditional downtowns, village centers, and urban mixed-use neighborhoods. We provide education and training, resources and technical assistance, and function as the statewide champion for downtowns and Main Streets of all sizes.

CMSC is supported by its Founding Partners, Eversource Energy and the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD). CMSC is also supported by its Growth Partners, UIL Holdings and the State Historic Preservation Office. More information is available at www.ctmainstreet.org

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Spotlight on Main Street: Middletown

Spotlight on Main Street: Middletown

  • CMSC: DT Middletown

  • CMSC: Middletown Main St

  • CMSC: Q Williams w guests

  • CMSC: Lt Gov Susan Bysiewicz

  • CMSC: DBD Coord Sandra Russo-Driska

  • CMSC: Middletown PD Chief Erik Costa

  • CMSC: Dominick DeMartino_DeMartino Development

  • CMSC: DeMartino Housing Rehab

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves Redev 1

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves Redev 2

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves_Hargraves Development

  • CMSC: JR Hargraves Redev Renderings

  • CMSC: KidCity 1

  • CMSC: KidCity 2

  • CMSC: Mayor Ben Florsheim

  • CMSC: Rep Quentin Williams

  • CMSC: Middletown DBD

Since 2013, CMSC and CEDAS have partnered on our Spotlight on Main Street networking events, where a hosting CMSC community shares how they have addressed local obstacles and achieved success in their downtown through collaboration, economic,  and community development.

In October 2022, CMSC & CEDAS members were treated to a behind-the-scenes view of the seven walkable blocks of Middletown’s Main Street, home to nearly 200 independent businesses from family-owned for generations to brand new, nestled along the Connecticut River. 

This event presented by

Highlights included:

  • A Welcome Reception on the Community Health Center Rooftop 
  • Guided walking tours of the downtown
  • A Closing reception hosted by the Inn at Middletown

With thanks to our host the Middletown Downtown Business District, a CMSC member community and speakers:

  • Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz
  • Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim
  • Jen Alexander, Chair, Downtown Business District
  • Sandra Russo-Driska, Downtown Business District Coordinator
  • Middletown Police Chief Erik Costa
  • Dominick DeMartino, DeMartino Development
  • JR Hargraves, Hargraves Development 
  • Larry McHugh, President, Middlesex County Chamber

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    CMSC Webinar Recap: Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

    CMSC Webinar

    Using Public Art for a More Vibrant & Welcoming Community

    Webinar Summary

    When public art is supported and implemented thoughtfully and strategically, it adds tremendous cultural, aesthetic, and economic value to a community by facilitating a sense of place and community pride. It encourages civic engagement and builds social capital through raising public awareness of important local issues and connecting residents to their neighbors and their shared history.

    In this webinar, our panel from around the country and Connecticut speaks to innovative public art programs that provide economic impact and create more inclusive communities.

    Presentation Highlights


    • The Importance of Public Art & Support – Connecticut Office of the Arts

      The arts provide meaning to our lives:

      • 69% of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences”
      • 73% feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in”
      • 81% say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world”

      Source Americans for the Arts

      Top 5 types of arts projects people favor for government funding:

      1. To provide art in parks, downtown areas, and other public places (72%)
      2. For returning military personnel, to aid in their transition to civilian life (70%)
      3. To provide arts and culture programs for the elderly (70%)
      4. To beautify blighted or abandoned areas (69%)
      5. To promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth (69%)

      Source Americans for the Arts

      Quality of life matters:

      • 99% of the CEOs who were questioned stated that the availability of cultural activities in an area is an important consideration in choosing a new location Source Project for Public Spaces

      CT Office of the Arts provides programming to help communities implement meaningful art projects:

      • AIR Collaborative “is a field-tested and iterative, three-step pathway designed to build innovation and economic sustainability” through facilitated community meetings.

      For more information contact: Tamara Dimitri – tamara.dimitri@ct.gov or visit ct.gov/arts

    • Murals: Examples of Public Art – The Rise Up Group, Inc

      RiseUP is a Connecticut-based non-profit that provides localized, end-to-end placemaking and public art management. Services include:

      • Project management
      • Fundraising strategy (can serve as a fiscal sponsor)
      • Government relations
      • Community engagement
      • Execution strategy and advising
      • Connector/facilitator
      • Artistic management
      • Artist database

      The organization focuses on exclusively using local artists for community projects; 60% of their artists are people of color.

      Learn more and get in touch at theriseupgroup.org.

    • Light Art – Portland Winter Light Festival

      Portland Winter Light Festival is a family-friendly, city-wide temporary light art placemaking event that takes place in February based in Portland, Oregon.

      The festival started in 2016 with no city funding and had 30,000 visitors to its latest event in 2022 bringing in 189,000 attendees and generated $3.7m in estimated economic impact. The city now provides some funding, but the majority of funders are from private donors and sponsors.

      Of note:

      • Anchor sites – The festival has multiple dynamic anchor sites and has smaller installations throughout the city in smaller installations. The anchor sites have the power to bring people to areas that have gained a negative perception and reset their understanding of a place. For example, downtown Portland’s reputation was tarnished during COVID and protests, but the festival brought people back downtown to reestablish the narrative.
      • Involving businesses – The festival attracts small businesses, parking lots, and hotels to be a host site for pop-up installations. There is an application process, but the festival also reaches out to business. “We try to tailor participation to the interest of the industry. For example, architecture firms participate by having their staff create art installations that highlight the creativity of their firm. Hotel Partners offer lobby spaces and a small sponsorship in exchange for recognition on a list of participating hotels in the hopes that will lead to room rentals. We have a call for venue participants (businesses of any kind) who want to host artwork in their windows, and that is really tied to revenue generation and community engagement. Over time, our hope is to help build a network of creatives and businesses that can work together to place artwork in various venues so that they are pulling creatives from their own neighborhoods to show art in their spaces and creating clusters of activation. I do think private businesses have an important role to play in building the artistic landscape of our cities, and it seems that more businesses are seeing the intrinsic value of participating.” – Alisha Sullivan, Executive Director in follow-up email exchange
      • Survey teams – The festival deploys survey teams throughout the event to get feedback and to count attendees. This data is critical to demonstrate value to stakeholders and calculate economic impact.

      For more information, visit www.pdxwlf.com or reach out to Alisha Sullivan at director@pdxwlf.com

    • Music & Night-Time Economy – Sound Diplomacy

      Big Ideas:

      • “A chamber of culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce and cultural infrastructure plans are key.” For further explanation from a follow-up email with Kate Durio, “Chambers of Culture look at culture as more than just art for art’s sake and recognize the economic and tourism value and quality of life afforded by culture. Seeing artists and cultural businesses as entrepreneurs and businesses instead of ‘starving artists’ requires a culture shift backed by policy makers, tourism offices, business developers and even city planners. This is how it goes beyond just an art’s council, for instance. Sometimes starting small is enough to get going, by establishing regular meetings of tourism, economic development, local government, arts agencies, etc. With a focused agenda, shared objectives and clear roles for all involved, a community can accomplish a lot if participants all commit.”
      • Invest in people already present” – Exemplified in Tulsa, Oklahoma they focused on supported their local artists in small, impactful ways instead of investing in large public projects like an amphitheater.
      • Create policy that supports musicians – Sound Diplomacy provides a Top 10 list of key policies that can support musicians, night-time economy, and other creatives. Some policies are a large undertaking and others are smaller, incremental steps with a powerful impact. For example, creating busking policies that encourage street performers, loading zones for musicians so they can easily set up at their night venue, and having more than one person in charge of special permitting.

      Free Resources:

      Other Reading:

      For more information, visit www.sounddiplomacy.com or reach out to Kate Durio at Kate@SoundDiplomacy.com.


    View the Recording


    Other Resources

    View additional Placemaking resources from CMSC, our members and the many organizations we partner with.

    About the Speakers

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    CMSC Blog: A Unified Voice in Support of Downtown

    A Unified Voice in Support of Downtown

    By Michelle McCabe, CMSC Executive Director

    I fell in love with Fairfield because of its downtown.  The charm of attractive storefronts and restaurants, the feel of lots going on, watching people bustling about on a sunny day together combined to communicate a warm, welcoming community that I wanted to join.  In my new role as Executive Director of Connecticut Main Street Center, I have the privilege of falling in love with countless main streets beyond the town in which I live.  It’s no wonder that downtowns and main streets are consistently referenced as a draw to Connecticut, bringing new businesses, workers, and visitors to live, work and play in our state.

    However, we know that creating an inviting main street is no easy feat.  Main streets rely on a complex network of relationships. Housing, food and drink, transportation, workforce, walkability, arts and culture, entertainment, parking, zoning, property owners and small businesses – many competing interests that require careful balancing and negotiation in order to craft a working ecosystem.   Interdependency may be the underlying reality of a main street but that doesn’t mean that all the stakeholders on main street see the bigger picture when conducting their daily business.  A skilled main street manager builds coalitions among these actors, uniting them around common goals to support the entire corridor.   Strength in numbers all rowing in the same direction can realize sustainable and continuous growth.

    The relationship and coalition building that is so critical to a vibrant main street informs advocacy at the state-level as well.  Decision making each session has a ripple effect at the municipal level with the capacity to raise all ships or possibly sink them.   Main streets have an opportunity to influence those decisions, to raise concerns, enact new policies, and direct funding that will support success in our rural, suburban and urban downtowns.  In order to move the needle, main streets benefit from joining forces around a unified platform.

    Connecticut Main Street historically has facilitated building a collective voice for our members and making connections with other advocacy coalitions to support our priorities. In the last session, CMSC advocated in support of legislation that expanded outdoor dining options and the application of abandoned and blighted property receivership, and informed proposed legislation around transit oriented development.  Additionally, CMSC partnered with the newly formed Main Street Working Group, comprised of Reps. Jennifer Leeper, Jane Garibay, and Quentin Williams.  The Working Group was created to study existing policies and identify opportunities to support local Downtown Main Streets across the state. CMSC provided them with information on issues facing downtowns and connected the Working Group with downtown professionals and industry experts who can speak to issues managing a downtown.

    In preparation for the upcoming session, we spent the summer and fall making sure that we heard from our members about what they need.  As a response to the focus on affordable housing around transit nodes, we conducted a TOD listening tour, visiting several of the main streets impacted by the proposed legislation.  In September, we distributed our first CMSC Advocacy Survey to gather input on a variety of topics from mixed income residential to support for small business to expanding transit.  The results are informing our policy priorities, which we will be unveiling in December along with the first convening with the legislature’s Main Street Working Group.  As a preview to our upcoming report, here are the issues that rose to the top from the results of our conversations and survey responses:

    • Increase direct support for main street small businesses and food retailers that includes access to capital and addressing workforce shortages
    • Support downtown development through a combination of tax incentives and access to capital
    • Enact implementation legislation that can allow for more municipal input on main street properties
    • Expand bus lines to better connect workers to jobs, increase funding for multimodal transit, and increase frequency of rail and bus
    • Shorten wait times for approval processes in administrative departments
    • Ensure that all downtowns – whether they are urban, suburban or rural – have equal access to funding and incentives

    Weighing in on legislation being crafted that impacts main streets is important; creating our own Main Street bills that are designed to specifically support vibrancy is essential.   CMSC is looking forward to continued input from our members as we move into session in honing our priorities, meeting with legislators, and submitting public testimony. 

    As everyone’s neighborhood, Connecticut’s main streets are one of our state’s most precious assets.  CMSC will work to ensure state-level investments are made in terms of supportive policies, funding, marketing, and efficiencies that reflect their importance to Connecticut’s future.


    About the Author

    Michelle McCabe is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Executive Director.  Michelle brings 12 years of non-profit experience to CMSC.  Before joining, Michelle served as interim Executive Director for HomeBridge Ventures, a non-profit focused on holistic workforce development and re-entry programming for formerly incarcerated individuals, and over seven years as Director of the FEED Center with The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. In the course of this work, she built multiple programs from the ground up, leading strategic planning, raising funds from a diversity of revenue sources, and guiding boards and staff through organizational change. Her experience also extends to successful public/private collaborations, community engagement, and policy advocacy.  Michelle currently serves on the Board of the Connecticut Arts Alliance and as a member of Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Vassar College and a master’s degree in art history and criticism from the University of Texas at Austin.

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    Small Business Boost Program

    CT Small Business Boost Program

    Program Overview

    The CT Small Business Boost Fund is a new resource to help small downtown & Main Street businesses move forward.

    Supported by the Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD), the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund links small businesses and non-profits to the financial support they need to thrive.

    The CT Small Business Boost Fund gives small business owners access to flexible funding for capital expenditures and working capital and connects them with support services. 

    • Small businesses and non-profits can borrow between $5,000 – $500,000 depending on eligibility and need.
    • Businesses can choose how they spend the money — on equipment, payroll, utilities & rent, supplies, marketing & advertising, eligible refinancing, building renovations and other expenses.
    • Loans are not forgivable. Businesses will need to pay back the full amount of the loan with interest over a 60- or 72-month term.

    Learn More

    Additional Information

    • Application

      • No origination fees
      • Streamlined application process
      • Quick application approval timelines
      • Support in multiple languages
    • Loan Terms

      • Borrow between $5,000 and $500,000 (subject to eligibility)
      • Fixed 4.5% interest rate
      • 60-month repayment terms for loans less than $150,000; 72-month repayment terms for loans over $150,000
    • Eligibility Requirements

      • Business and nonprofits must have operations in Connecticut
      • Have no more than 100 full-time employees
      • Have annual revenues of less than $8 million
      • Businesses and nonprofits must have been in operation for at least 1 year prior to the date of application. A small amount of financing is available for start-up businesses

    Resources

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    CSMC Webinar: Supporting Small Businesses on Main Street

    CMSC Webinar

    Supporting Small Businesses on Main Street

    Webinar Summary

    The findings in Main Street America’s 2022 Small Business Survey give great insight into the concerns, needs, and wants from Main Street businesses. This survey (and asking your business community directly) gives excellent guidance to Main Streets on what types of programs that should be focused on implementing. In fact, according to Main Street America 26% of survey respondents say that they are receiving assistance from Main Street programs, which has increased 4% prior to COVID indicating Main Street programs are becoming more important in supporting their small businesses.


    Presentation Highlights

    • Desired Support #1: Incentives & Financial support

      Example Hart Lift Program

      The Hart Life Program is in partnership with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the City of Hartford to help property owners secure tenants in their vacant storefronts with up to a $150,000 grant.

      There have been 46 approved applicants since the launch of the program and 6 businesses have opened to date. The businesses supported through this program are diverse in terms of types of businesses and 72% are MWBE-owned businesses.

      The program is open to property owners that are in good standing with the City of Hartford with vacant ground floor retail space and who are actively working with a prospective tenant. The matching grants can be used only for buildout and furniture, fixture, and equipment costs, and the new business must conform with POCD and all planning and zoning requirements and guidelines.

      The second phase of the program will include more targeted neighborhood outreach and networking events and workshops to support the business owners.

      Learn more at hartfordchamberct.com/hart-lift.

    • Desired Support #2: Increased district-wide marketing & promotion

      Example Colorful Bridgeport

      Colorful Bridgeport is Bridgeport Downtown Special Services District’s branding and marketing campaign launched in 2019. It “spreads color and joy through business features, public art, activations, and events with the goals of economic development, distinct identity, positive perception, and an in improved quality of life for all.”

      Critical to any downtown branding is highlighting the assets of the district. Colorful Bridgeport focuses on highlighting its people – not buildings or other geographic markers. The whole branding scheme “personalizes and humanizes” its district by using images of real people you will find downtown. This approach is an excellent example of creating a sense of pride in place, but it also is a strategic way to overcome negative perceptions.

      Consistency and the use of partnerships are critical to the success of the branding campaign. All district events and activations align with the Colorful Bridgeport brand, small business owners who have not been engaged previously have a renewed sense of getting involved, and partners are equipped with marketing and branding tools to align with Colorful Bridgeport. 

      Visit Downtown Bridgeport’s website to see Colorful Bridgeport in action.

    • Desired Support #3: Stronger organization of businesses in the area

      Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs is an alternative to a traditional merchant meetup. Focused on storytelling in an informal setting, this event highlights a small business owner’s story and brings together the business community, entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the general community.

      There are no sales pitches and no PowerPoints – just stories. Speakers are coached on how to tell great stories pulling on lessons from “The Storyteller’s Secret” by Carmine Gallo and “Start with Story” by Lyn Graft.

      Read the story of how Silver City Main Street in Silver City, New Mexico used this storytelling format to engage the business community and greater community in their small town of under 10,000.

      Connect with Melanie Lenci, founder of Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs, and learn more about Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs program:

    View the Recording


    Key findings from the 2022 Small Business Survey:

    • Top 5 Biggest Concerns of Small Business

        1. Shrinking margins
        2. Challenges with inflation
        3. Challenges hiring and filling positions with qualified applicants
        4. Cost of rent
        5. Supply chain issues
    • Top 5 Desired Types of Support

        1. Incentives and financial support for small business
        2. Increased district-wide marketing and promotion
        3. Stronger organization of businesses in the area
        4. Improvements to the physical design of the area (e.g. accessibility, lighting, wayfinding, streetscape)
        5. Incentives, support, or technical assistance for storefront/façade renovations or energy efficiency
    • Top 5 Topics Small Businesses are Interested in Developing

        1. Online marketing
        2. Partnerships with other local businesses and business groups
        3. Leveraging data to improve marketing and inventory
        4. Strengthening relationships with local and state government
        5. Ecommerce

      Learn more at Main Street America.

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    About the Presenters

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    CMSC’s Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker Departing for State Agency

    CMSC’s Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker Departing for State Agency

    Longtime Downtown advisor headed to DECD

    CMSC ANNOUNCEMENT
    October 17, 2022

    Connecticut Main Street Center announces the departure of Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker, Senior Director of Main Street Services & Projects, effective Friday, October 21st. Kim will be assuming a new post with the Connecticut Department of Community and Economic Development, where she’ll serve as Community Development Specialist, managing the CT Communities Challenge Grant Program.

    Kim joined CMSC in 2001, shortly after the then-Connecticut Light & Power Company (now Eversource) restructured the original CT Main Street Program into the Connecticut Main Street Center, an independent non-profit. Over that time, CMSC’s member communities relied on Kim as she guided them through community visioning and planning, in-depth consultancies, and countless training and networking events, in addition to her endless advice and encouragement.

    Kim contributed enormously to the growth and success of CMSC, helping to grow membership to over 80 communities, more than doubling the staff, and most recently serving as Interim CEO. She leaves the organization with an expanded team of professionals to assist Main Streets across the state and in the capable hands of new Executive Director, Michelle McCabe.

    Kim is looking forward to the opportunity to transition into a new role after many years with CMSC. “While my colleagues have known about this for a while, I’m glad I can finally share the news with everyone else. I’m proud of what CMSC has accomplished and thrilled with where it’s headed. I’m excited to see what they do next and excited about taking on this new challenge at DECD. It really feels like a natural evolution for CMSC and for me,” said Kim.

    “Kim did an excellent job helming the organization through its transition and laying the foundation for me to be able to jump right in. DECD is a great partner of ours, and it will be a tremendous benefit to have Kim’s specific expertise at the State level. I am thrilled for Kim as she starts this exciting new chapter and look forward to working with her in her new capacity,” said Michelle McCabe, CMSC Executive Director.

    “Kim has been a mainstay here at CT Main Street Center for decades. She was a go-to resource to myself when serving as the Mayor of Torrington and has remained so during my service on the Board of Directors. Her contributions to downtowns in Connecticut are incalculable. On behalf of the Board here at CT Main Street Center, we wish her the best in her new role with DECD and look forward to working with Kim for many years to come,” said Ryan Bingham, CMSC Board Chair.

    CMSC is looking forward to celebrating Kim at a December event. In the meantime, please join us in thanking Kim for her service to CMSC and Connecticut’s downtowns, and wishing her much success in her new role at DECD.


    About Connecticut Main Street Center

    CMSC is the expert resource for developing and sustaining vibrant downtowns that fuel our state’s prosperity. Our mission is to assess, educate, convene, and advocate to develop and grow our traditional downtowns, village centers, and urban mixed-use neighborhoods. We provide education and training, resources and technical assistance, and function as the statewide champion for downtowns and Main Streets of all sizes.

    CMSC is supported by its Founding Partners, Eversource Energy and the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD). CMSC is also supported by its Growth Partners, UIL Holdings and the State Historic Preservation Office. More information is available at www.ctmainstreet.org

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    CMSC Blog: From Problems to Partners Training Recap

    From Problems to Partners Training Recap

    By Kristen Lopez

    As a Main Street professional, do any of these challenges sound familiar?

    • The need to rebuild trust
    • A COVID-created sense of disconnectedness
    • Educating the community on “why”
    • Getting buy-in or people to commit and participate
    • Communication issues like leveraging technology and collaborating across sectors
    • Resistance to change

    If so, you’re not alone.

    These are the challenges attendees identified during our recent training, From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments. Main Street Leaders from all corners of Connecticut convened at CMSC’s Hartford office to learn practical engagement strategies and tactics through interactive case studies and group discussion led by Raquel Vazquez from The Empowered Block.

    And those challenges listed above? It turns out the core source is misaligned engagement efforts.

    During the training, Raquel led attendees through discussions and exercises focused on how to re-align those engagement efforts. In this post, we’re summarizing some of the key ideas and strategies that you can put into use today.

    Understanding Stakeholders’ Roles and Perspectives

    The first step to building strong, trusting connections with stakeholders is to understand their role in the downtown ecosystem, and to fully understand their priorities, wants, and needs. Without taking this into consideration, expectations and motivations can be easily misunderstood and communication can break down.

    Every stakeholder has unique perspectives. If you are having trouble understanding a stakeholder, some strategies you can employ are: ask for clarification and practice active listening, ask for feedback, keep an open line of communication, and promptly resolve misunderstandings and miscommunications.

    Take inventory of your downtown stakeholders and go through an exercise of considering their role and their priorities/needs/wants. For example, small business owners contribute to the sense of a place in the downtown and they are concerned with hiring and maintaining good employees. What else do small business owners contribute and prioritize?

    Engagement Strategies

    Building relationships with stakeholders happens through engagement. Some communities leverage technology like Bang the Table and CitizenLab, while others use traditional means like newsletters and social media. However, these typical strategies only serve one-way forms of communications and are best for sharing announcements. Depending on your objectives – like developing a plan or solving a complex problem – you need to utilize multiple methods of engagement. For example, you might want to convene focus groups for input on the development of a plan, a steering committee to get different perspectives on a problem, or a formal partnership to tackle a more intricate challenge. 

    Inclusive Engagement

    Critical to any successful stakeholder engagement is inclusivity. Ensure that relationships are formed with groups diverse across gender, race, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, disability, LGTBTQIA, different ages, and other identities. Create a welcoming environment and expand accessibility (e.g. language, physical abilities, time of day, method of engagement, etc.), but don’t make assumptions that you know best how to achieve an inclusive environment. Solicit feedback and guidance from community members or hire an appropriate consultant.

    It also helps to be aware of your community’s history of exclusion and how it impacts today. Communities that have been historically disenfranchised may not engage because they feel “my voice doesn’t matter.” Resources to consider are the book “Color of the Law” by Richard Rothstein and trauma-informed community engagement.

    Building Collaborative Teams

    To build high-performing, collaborative teams, first understand some of the challenges in forming such teams: people are stressed, they have biases, some are perceived as being difficult, goals and timelines can be unrealistic, priorities and needs aren’t communicated, body language or tone can be misinterpreted.

    How can you overcome these barriers? Invest in developing your active listening skills, improve your ability to navigate difficult conversations, and facilitate effective meetings. Learn about team dynamics and accept different people’s perspectives and preferred forms of communication or working environments.

    Learn More

    A huge thank you to Raquel Vazquez for bringing this training to Connecticut’s downtown leaders. To learn more about The Empowered Block and Raquel’s work, please visit empoweredblock.com or reach out to Raquel directly at raquel@empoweredblock.com.


    About the Author

    Kristen Lopez is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Education & Training Director. With over 12 years of program development and marketing experience in economic development with a specific focus on small business,  she is motivated by the mission to see Main Streets across Connecticut thrive. Kristen is an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer alum, a StartingBloc Fellow, and Next City Vanguard Fellow. She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Messiah University.

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