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Author: Christine Schilke

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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CSMC Webinar: How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

CMSC Webinar

How to Fill Vacant Storefronts

Webinar Summary

Every Main Street will face vacancies from time to time, and COVID only exacerbated this challenge across Connecticut and the country. Not only are persistent vacancies detrimental to creating and sustaining a vibrant downtown, but they also have a negative economic impact on the community. In this webinar, our presenter Ilana Preuss – international speaker, and fierce advocate for creating great places and small-scale manufacturing – shares:

  • Innovative approaches to filling vacant storefronts from around the country
  • Programmatic ideas to collaborate with property owners
  • Long-term solutions to keep storefronts full by supporting local small business ecosystems

Presentation Highlights

  • 5 Reasons why vacant storefronts exist

    1. Cost of renovation: The cost to renovate a vacant space is too high and the market does not support a lease rate that supports the cost of renovation.
    2. Tax benefits: Property owners gain a tax benefit on the loss of not leasing space.
    3. Devalue underwriting: For new, big development projects, the owner doesn’t want to lower the price of the storefronts to not devalue the whole project if they are looking to sell or refinance at some point.
    4. Guaranteed lease: This is common to see in malls or big box strip centers, where a major anchor tenant has a guaranteed lease for an extended period of time so no one else can come into the space.
    5. Mismatch of real estate sizes and small business needs: A lot of communities have a lot of storefronts that are 2,000-10,000 square feet when a lot of small businesses need 500-1,000 square feet.
  • Context & national trends that are influencing our downtowns:

    • Vacant storefronts reduce the value of nearby property by 20% or more. They reduce traffic to these areas and leads to a feeling of isolation in the community. The impact of vacancies are multi-fold and in many cases create a downward spiral in communities.
    • During COVID, a lot of businesses pivoted, some survived, and many did not.
    • Over 1 million COVID deaths impacted our householders, economy, and individuals. The psychological impact of the pandemic cannot be ignored.
    • A lot of people started businesses in recent years without a lot of business experience. They started small business because they lost their jobs or decided to pursue their passion or a different quality of life.
    • People are demanding higher wages and pay.
    • Before the pandemic we saw demographic shifts such as decline in working age population and growing income and wealth inequality – which have only been exacerbated during COVID.
    • A lot of major chains shrunk their footprint and are focusing on prime locations.
  • Strategies to fill vacant storefronts

    1. Support small business

    Specifically focus on small-scale manufacturing (businesses that make consumer products). These businesses have opportunities for different sources of revenue making them more resilient – retail, wholesale, online, pop-ups, etc. They are a draw for foot traffic in your downtown and bring people together.

    • Provide financing to support these businesses
      • Provide incubators, accelerators, or other support programs to help them gain business skills and/or how they can move into storefronts particularly when paired with market opportunities and financing
      • Examples of training programs for getting home-based businesses into storefronts: Baltimore Home Run Accelerator, 37 Oaks

    2. Commercial Vacancy Tax Ordinance

    3. Tax Increment Finance (TIF) or other funding vehicle with matching grants

    4. Financing for local business to buy real estate

    • Keep real estate ownership local by providing support and financing options for local small business owners who have the interest and capacity to purchase property.
    • Examples: Pittsburgh

    5.Commercial Land Trust


View the Recording


Other Resources

About Ilana Preuss

Ilana Preuss is the Founder and CEO of Recast City and the author of the new book “Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing.”

Preuss’ passion for great places grew out of her experience working with small and large cities all over the country when she led the technical assistance program at the U.S. EPA Smart Growth Program, and as the Vice President & Chief of Staff at Smart Growth America. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University and a Masters of City Planning from the University of Maryland.

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CMSC Blog: Right-sizing Projects in Today’s Volatile Construction Market

Right-sizing Projects in Today’s Volatile Construction Market

By Michael C. Scott, AIA, TSKP STUDIO

There are two Towns only 9 minutes apart in the surprisingly large state of Pennsylvania, the Town of Desire and the Town of Panic. As architects, we find ourselves on the road driving between desire and panic, trying to find the right balance for projects. Establishing the goals of a project early and building consensus around those goals can build a solid road map to follow as plans unfold and detours occur.

Public clients grow and build differently than commercial clients. Public capital projects are built less frequently and must last longer. While budgets guide all projects, public projects are often constrained to the initial budget number, often by public money appropriated by referendum. This creates an early public expectation of scope, quality, and cost, which must be met. Typically, public projects have a champion or a group of visionaries who drive the initial steps and have a multitude of stakeholders. For a community to truly become invested in the project, these stakeholders need to be included early in the process when the project goals are established. Ultimately, it is the end user who will determine the success of the project.

Once a project’s goals are established, and existing conditions have been studied, the beginning of a concept starts to take shape. During the design process, projects are introduced and tested against the real world in which they must perform. Any educator, leader, or parent recognizes this as the adolescence stage. Projects, like most people, grow awkwardly. They present flashes of what they can become but often reside as partially realized until another sudden moment of growth. Projects have always developed in this manner, but what happens when projects must do so in the current market environment?

Unprecedented changes and struggles defined the last two years. Construction markets thrive on stability. Since early 2020, we have seen nothing but volatility as the market has swung between extremes. The initial pandemic uncertainty forced immediate and dramatic deflation as bidders attempted to hold production and maintain market share. Our region saw bids as much as 20% below 2019 budgets. However, as the uncertainty of the pandemic persisted, the market became dominated by scarcity. Shortages of labor and materials pressured commodity markets and production. Shipping and delivery issues started to become commonplace. As the market recognized these new realities, inflation and interest rates rose. In our region, we see escalation well above 10%.

If the construction market thrives on stability, how can projects be successful when the market unexpectedly swings by as much as 30%? These are challenging times for clients and their developing projects. Experience as architects, educators, and leaders, teaches us three key points.

  1. BE CLEAR. Guiding the development of public projects relies on consistently reinforcing the project’s goals. These goals must be clear and the standards set early. Moreover, there must be consensus on those goals. A project with a clear vision is more likely to succeed in a volatile market. When obstacles arise, turn to the project goals to guide decisions. This can safeguard the project from adding unnecessary frills, blowing the budget, or (worse) taking away necessities to meet the budget. Projects must meet their goals to be successful.
  1. BE OPEN. Multiple solutions achieve the necessary criteria. Build first what must be in place, knowing it will stand for decades. Consider building with materials that are timeless and durable. Then build what is needed only for now, not for all time. Consider multiple uses of the same space. Build less space. Public projects come to life when occupied by their end-users. Smaller, more durable projects are more lively and adaptable. Exposing a project to today’s market pressures burns off the unnecessary to reveal the essential. Testing the desired project goals against what is needed minimizes future budget and program panic.
  1. BE NIMBLE. Now that the essential project criteria are defined, and goals have been achieved, it’s time to meet with the stakeholders to discuss the next set of standards. Offer flexibility, serve more end-users, last longer, and operate more efficiently, for example. As designers, we build these criteria into the drawings at every phase called Add Alternates. An Add Alternate is a list of “nice to haves” which are priced at every milestone. Ultimately, the project is bid with these alternates allowing the market to weigh in on their value. We have found that even in this volatile market, competition for the overall project affords aggressive pricing and good value on alternates. These alternates also have an advantage well in advance of bid day. At each phase, the list of alternates is priced and evaluated by the project team. Together, we can track the “cost” of features, programs, or systems the stakeholder values. This affords the project “rank-choice” prioritization. Some alternates might be folded into the core project. Some may fade away. Alternates create an open and transparent forum for what the project could and must include. Alternates save time. This allows a project to proceed onto the next phase and ultimately into bidding. However, alternates are not a list of needs. The core project must meet the overall goal without any of these alternates.

Not long ago, we built things to be sustainable. Now we build to be resilient – resiliency in our institutions, our programs, and our communities. Projects, too, must be resilient. Buildings, in their final form, should be adaptable. For the foreseeable future, bringing such facilities into being must adapt to these market forces. Such an effort requires passionate foresight of all a project must become and patient insight into how it must get there.


About the Author

Michael C. Scott

Michael C. Scott has contributed to a wide range of project types and scales, from working with Steve Jobs on the corporate campus for Pixar in Northern California to a middle school in Middletown, Connecticut. He enjoys creating a complete environment that fosters a sense of community and leaves the community with a feeling that their voices were heard.  Michael is a registered architect and a senior associate in the Hartford-based TSKP STUDIO with 25 years of experience. He can be found exploring a trail in one of Connecticut’s many land trusts or at his local library, browsing books related to local history or humor (sometimes the same book).


About TSKP

TSKP Studio

Founded in 1970, TSKP STUDIO is a diverse architectural practice that continues the legacy of our founder, Tai Soo Kim, who grew the firm to international recognition through a dedication to hard-work, exploration and commitment to logical and elegant design. Our work responds to the unique context of each site and client with educators often remarking how well the classrooms and spaces work for their students and them. By embracing the diversity and talents of our staff we leverage a broad range of skills and experiences to provide fresh solutions to complex challenges. Regardless of project scope, size or budget, our definition of success is creating spaces that positively impact the life, productivity and wellbeing of our clients and end-users.

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Waterbury Accepting Applications for Central Business District Investment Program

Waterbury Announces Central Business District Investment Program

Now Accepting Applications

The Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in partnership with the City of Waterbury, is launching a new economic investment program aimed at helping central business district property owners lease their vacant storefronts.

The initiative, named the Central Business District Investment Program (CBDIP), uses $1.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds for a new matching grant program that is designed to help property owners within the district who were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the program, eligible property owners can receive up to $100,000 to be used for interior or exterior buildout costs for vacant ground floor-level retail space. Property owners with vacant storefronts are eligible for a grant of $50 per square foot, up to $100,000. Any grant awarded to a property owner must be matched at 100 percent by the owner of the property, the tenant, or a combination of both parties. Applications are now being accepted; to get started, click here.

The Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce Foundation is an affiliate of the Waterbury Regional Chamber. Waterbury Regional Chamber staff serve as GWCC Foundation staff and are directing and leading the program. An oversight and approval committee, compromised of City officials and Chamber Foundation officials are responsible for reviewing and awarding the grants.

More information


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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An Interview with Raquel Vazquez, The Empowered Block

An Interview with Raquel Vazquez, The Empowered Block

With Kristen Lopez

In September we’ll be hosting a training workshop called, From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments. This issue is raised frequently by our members across the state, and it requires time to build and strengthen community engagement skills to get it done right.

We’re thrilled to be partnering with Rachel Vasquez, the CEO & Founder of The Empowered Block to deliver this training. Our Education & Training Director, Kristen Lopez, recently interviewed Raquel to learn more about her background, experience, and what attendees can expect from the day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity


Hi Raquel! We’re so excited to work with you on our upcoming training. Can you give a brief overview of who you are and what The Empowered Block is?

Hi Kristen! I’m Raquel Vasquez, CEO and founder of The Empowered Block. The Empowered Block is a community development consultancy focused on economic development, affordable housing, community engagement, and everything else community development related.

As for myself, I’m a community development professional. I’ve been in this industry for over 13 years from the public/private sector and nonprofit sector perspectives. I’ve worked with a ton of communities on various initiatives.

When we first connected, one of the topics we discussed was how many different and interesting projects you’ve worked on, and the core theme has been community engagement. Can you give an example of how you used community engagement best practices to work in a challenging environment to complete a project?

One project that comes to mind is Age Friendly New York City. I was a part of launching the first aging improvement district in the Bronx a couple years ago. There were a ton of partners that we had to get involved, with me overseeing and spearheading the initiative and pulling it together. And there was a ton of stakeholders that we had to engage on a local level to really understand how we can address customer needs, especially for those aging in place in our communities. How can we make businesses more accessible physically? What are the auditory pedestrian signals that we can put in major intersections where there are heavy concentrations of senior citizens residing in the area?

We thought of a lot of infrastructure upgrades that the City could promote to ensure accessibility, like more signs to alert pedestrians and people driving vehicles where there are people that might be hearing impaired and so forth.

It was extremely rewarding building a coalition and a whole network of partners for this initiative. Seeing the physical landscape change to be more accommodating to those with limited physical and hearing abilities and seeing the upgrades in businesses – for instance ramps – was exciting to see happen.

That’s one initiative I worked on that was really amazing, just working with the small business community on those type of initiatives. And it really helps everybody – it helps business owners, it helps property owners, it fosters goodwill among the residents and the potential customers of businesses in the community.

That’s an amazing project. I can imagine it was also complex and nuanced with varying degrees of business and city support.  And the process you took for this initiative is truly very similar to any other project, like working with merchants with unattractive window displays that’s affecting the whole Main Street. You need to build coalitions, partners, and resources to influence and get people on board.

So, when we say “community engagement” it’s a loaded term. Because “community” is made up of a lot of different people, a lot of different stakeholders, all with different perspectives, opinions, lived experiences, and agendas. When we’re talking about Main Street development, downtown development, or commercial corridor development, what are some of the most common community members and stakeholders and what are some of the kinds of common roadblocks that we face in this type of work?

In the context of economic development and small business development, the main stakeholders are the residents, the customers, the businesses, who owns the businesses, the property owners, the property managers who are managing those properties on behalf of the property owners. Then we have the municipalities and the municipal agencies. So that’s everything from departments of economic development to the mayoral offices. Then there are the elected officials that drive their own agendas with the community and partnership with the community. There are other governance bodies such as community boards or other coalitions that are initiated by or overseen by municipal agencies. That’s just the landscape in terms of economic development and small business context of engagement. But each of these stakeholders have their own perspectives. They have their own priorities and needs. They have their own concerns and challenges.

In the training, we’re going to take a deeper dive into the roles of each of these stakeholder groups and how these roles impact their needs, concerns, and opportunities. There are a ton of different opportunities that each of these stakeholder groups experience. There’s a – hopefully not a lot of barriers, but there are some identified barriers that we’re aware of that they experience. We definitely want to bring awareness to everybody’s perspectives, all stakeholder groups in their perspectives, so that we’re better able to serve our own communities.

The landscape is so big and complex. And I think that as a professional doing this type of work, we immediately think of the business owners themselves, we think about the property owners, the kind of maybe more easy to reach, easy to contact stakeholders, but there’s just so much more nuance there.

Let’s talk more about the upcoming From Problems to Partners training. This topic of, how do we engage business owners, how do we engage property owners who might be absent and completely out of touch, and how do we deal with municipal departments that are overworked, overwhelmed, or maybe just apathetic to what you’re trying to accomplish? These are concerns and challenges that we hear from our members all across Connecticut. So that’s why we’ve partnered with you to glean your wisdom from all your experience. Can you share a little bit about what attendees can expect from this training?

Absolutely. Attendees can definitely expect an interactive dynamic conversation and training on stakeholder engagement. There’s going be lots of opportunities to share your individual experiences, share a little bit about barriers and challenges you’ve encountered or experienced, as well as share best practices that you have implemented, or what you want to implement in your local Main Street corridor. We’ll discuss how we can work collaboratively to build a successful stakeholder engagement landscape and build strong partnerships with organizations in our local communities.

You can also expect and a ton of strategies and resources to be shared during and after the workshop.

What are some of the specific topics that will be covered?

We’ll first start with a general overview on stakeholder engagement just to understand the principles.

Then we’re going to discuss some engagement strategies that organizations can leverage to engage with the different stakeholders that they’re interacting with.  We’ll talk about the various stakeholder perspectives, as I mentioned briefly earlier, and their needs, barriers, and challenges for inclusive engagement.

We’ll cover building collaborative teams, driving forth public-private partnerships, and building fruitful partnerships with stakeholders.  We’ll also talk about the context of Connecticut and history of exclusion and how we can engage all communities.

We’re going leave with best practices and a lot of strategies.

It’s going to be a very packed session! Good thing we will be feeding you breakfast before we dive into the content, so you will be fed and caffeinated!   

I love how we’ll be discussing each stakeholder group and their perspective and learn different strategies to engage them because not every approach will work for every group the same way.

As we wrap up, can you share what you’re most excited about for this training?

I’m excited to connect with the participants and talk about how we can improve the small business and economic development landscape across the state by leveraging stakeholder engagement as a strategy, as a set of tools. I’m excited to hear about everyone’s experiences, their perspectives. I want to facilitate very meaningful conversations about building partnerships and relationships with local stakeholders. As important as takeaways and strategies are, there’s so much that we can learn from one another. So, I’m excited about all that, the opportunity to share, and to really reflect and learn from everyone in the room.

There’s always magic that happens when people can get together and share their personal experience, what worked, what didn’t work. And that’s part of the reason why we wanted to have this in person training versus on Zoom.

I’m personally also really excited about all the scenarios and case studies we’ll be reviewing. I think the attendees will really like that practical application and have robust conversation on how to handle these situations.

Thank you so much, Raquel, for taking your time to share a little bit more about your experience and expertise.  We are all very excited for this program coming up September 29th, 2022 – From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments.

Thank you so much, Kristen, and looking forward to it as well.

To learn more about and to register for From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments please visit our website: Deadline to register is September 15, 2022. Don’t delay signing up for this fantastic training as space is limited.



About Kristen Lopez

Kristen M. Lopez is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Education & Training Director. With over 11 years of experience in economic development from various roles and industries across the United States, she has always worked with adults to achieve their goals through education. 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.

About Raquel Vazquez

Raquel is Founder & CEO of the Empowered Block LLC. For over 12 years, Raquel has spent her career in community development work, ranging from constituent services, community outreach, policy analysis, and affordable housing development in New York City and Washington, DC.

She has dedicated her career to advance equity, foster investment, and strengthen public-private partnerships in underserved communities.

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Raquel is proud to be a Black & Latina community development professional. Raquel has a Master’s in Public Administration, Graduate Certificate in Real Estate Finance, and a double Bachelor’s in Sociology and Latin American & Caribbean Studies.

To learn more about Raquel, check out her website or LinkedIn.

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State Announces $150m Program to Assist Small Businesses

State Announces New $150m Program to Help Small Businesses

Public-Private Partnership Will Support Organizations in Historically Underserved Communities

Governor Ned Lamont announced the launch of the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund, a public-private partnership that provides low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits in Connecticut. Businesses can now apply for loans ranging from $5,000 to $500,000.

The program is aimed at helping small businesses and nonprofits, particularly those in low-income and historically underserved communities, with access to flexible working capital. The loans have a fixed, 4.5% interest rate and are available to eligible small businesses and nonprofits with operations in Connecticut that have 100 or fewer full-time employees and annual revenues of less than $8 million.

The state is making a foundational investment of $75 million into this public-private partnership,  with the other $75 million coming from private banks, including CMSC Corporate Investor M&T Bank.  The goal is for the fund to become self-sustaining as more private funds are invested. 

Small businesses and nonprofits can apply online at CTSmallBusinessBoostFund.org, and if they qualify, they will be matched with a lender. Once matched, the participating lender will assist the business owner throughout the application process. This lending model has previously found success in programs based in California, New York, and Washington state.

The fund works with and through local community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and lenders that have decades of experience serving historically under-resourced and underbanked communities. The following CDFIs are participating in the program, including CMSC Corporate Investor Capital for Change:

  • Ascendus
  • Capital for Change
  • HEDCO
  • NDC Community Impact Loan Fund
  • Pursuit
  • Southeastern CT Enterprise Region (SeCTer)

It is administered by the National Development Council (NDC) with funding arranged by Calvert Impact Capital. In addition to funding from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), initial funding has been provided by Citizens Bank, M&T Bank, and First Republic Bank.

“We consider this program to be a one-stop shop for small-business owners,” DECD Commissioner David Lehman said. “What separates the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund from other loan programs is that it offers support and guidance services, in addition to the financial assistance, that helps put recipients on the path to success.”

“At M&T we recognize that small businesses are the backbone of our local economies, especially in underserved and diverse communities,” Michael Weinstock, M&T Bank regional president for Hartford, said. “That’s why we’re proud to be joining the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund to support small businesses and nonprofits that too often lack access to affordable, flexible credit. Our focus as a community bank has always been on providing resources that financially empower our customers. This partnership is another important action we are taking to further that mission.”

For more information and to apply, visit CTSmallBusinessBoostFund.org.

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’s Carl Rosa Receives State Citation for Years of Service

CMSC’s Carl Rosa Receives State Citation for Years of Service

CMSC’s Field Services Director, Carl Rosa, recently received a State of Connecticut citation recognizing his years of service with Main Street Waterbury (a CMSC member community), where he served as CEO for 17 years.

Known as “Mr. Main Street” in the Waterbury community, the citation recognizes Carl for bringing the Brass City Brew and Que Fest to the downtown and improving the business environment for downtown merchants. The award also notes his, “Waterbury spirit was very evident in his work. His wisdom and experience from Main Street Waterbury will surely be a huge benefit to Connecticut Main Street Center.” 

Carl was presented the award by Rep. Ronald A. Napoli, Jr., 73rd district, Sen. Joan Hartley, 15th district, and Rep. Geraldo C. Reyes, Jr., 75th district during a recent event at Signature’s Restaurant in downtown Waterbury on May 25th.


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