Downtown marketing: Don't go it alone

How DDAs can maximize downtown marketing.

Few buzzwords are quite as big right now as “downtown marketing” and it’s got us all thinking: How do we make the most of what we can do to market our downtowns?

Two major factors that play into any successful marketing campaign are time and money. As a volunteer board with limited funds, Downtown Development Authorities (DDA) need to find ways to leverage their resources for maximum impact. One great way to do this is to partner with other downtown stakeholders.

Michigan State University Extension partner Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) has many communities in their region that are taking advantage of collaborating. For example in East Jordan, the DDA is teaming up with the area Chamber of Commerce to begin a community wide marketing team. The new group will bring input and assistance from the DDA, Chamber, Schools and other community groups forming a bank of volunteers and staff to cover the time as well as pooling marketing budgets to increase available dollars.

Other communities like Boyne City use their engagement in the Main Street program to organize their collective efforts. While the Main Street program isn’t a perfect fit for all communities, taking elements from their model can help any community organize volunteers and goals into a cohesive unit. Bring It Cheboygan! is leveraging their nearly 70 volunteers to become a Main Street City and to gain momentum while they are working toward the program.

Another program that focuses on downtown marketing is the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC.) RRC focuses on streamlining the municipal process for businesses and developers to come into your town. Through six best practices, cities establish their process and available incentives, identify properties that are prime for redevelopment and market those properties to developers throughout the state. Engaged communities can take advantage of the annual Opportunity Michigan publication to feature their sites in a statewide marketing push.

Keep an open mind to what works best for your community and encourage involvement to be sure you are meeting those needs. Conduct market analysis to determine what is missing in your community and actively recruit to fill those voids. Communities in Northwest Michigan can start with the Networks Northwest Commercial Corridor Inventories published in 2014 to determine the growth and investment in their county. Take that information and establish what your community needs and how each group can come together to accomplish those goals.

Michigan State University Extension has had a unique relationship with the regional economic development organization Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, the NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension as it provides leadership to state-wide programs sponsored by MSU Extension.” 

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