Even after 10 years as executive director of Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership, Amy Hansen still found herself wondering if there was something else she could do to increase the breadth and depth of her downtown revitalization knowledge. As she tells it, the workshops and webinars offered through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s (WEDC’s) Wisconsin Main Street Program do a good job of offering skills developed in a targeted area once a quarter, but Amy thought she lacked the “whole picture” knowledge of the many facets of historic commercial district revitalization. The path she sought became clearer in the fall of 2015, when the National Main Street Center announced the launch of the Main Street America™ Institute that would begin the following January.
According to the program’s website, “The Main Street America Institute provides participants with a unique, dynamic environment to explore preservation-based revitalization issues and develop advanced leadership skills that are essential for today’s Main Street and commercial district management needs.”
Before sitting for the certification exam, participants must complete online coursework and pass a section exam, as well as attending two workshops within two years. Amy admits that this seemed daunting at first. “I haven’t had any graded coursework since college. My old fears of missing assignments and taking tests resurfaced, but I knew this was something that I would just have to overcome,” she says.
She started in January of 2016, taking everything as it was offered, and received her Main Street America Revitalization Professional credentials in just 18 months. Noting the significant time commitment, she credits technology with making it possible: “I’d spend many Saturdays catching up with archived webinars, and being able to take the tests on my iPad afforded even more flexibility.”
Amy feels she emerged from the process as a more well-rounded professional. She credits National Main Street Center with recruiting the “best of the best” to teach the classes and conduct the workshops. “Having a closer connection to these experts is a definite plus of having gone through the process,” she says, “and forming a deeper relationship with my peers across the country is another bonus.”
She encourages her fellow directors from Wisconsin to participate: “Participating in the Institute adds to your confidence in the work that you are doing and, ultimately, benefits your district and community.” Currently, Elizabeth Brodek with Wausau River District and Roger Russove of Two Rivers Main Street are working toward the certification. Wisconsin Main Street offers a 50 percent scholarship to directors who wish to achieve certification, as long as the remainder of the cost is covered by the local program. This is done to foster an appreciation for continued education, to develop top talent in our local programs, and to create a network of revitalization experts within the state. Amy noted that she was not aware if any of her fellow participants from other states had received this type of support from their coordinating programs, and few received it from their local organizations.
“I quickly realized the uniqueness of Wisconsin Main Street and WEDC’s investment. It shows they really do want to help create communities where people want to be throughout the state,” says Amy. ”I want to thank WEDC for the scholarship and Downtown Fond du Lac Partnership for their investment in me.” She admits that the scholarship was a “call-to-action” to enroll right away, since funds don’t always carry over from one budget year to the next. It also served as a motivator to know that Wisconsin Main Street believed in her enough to commit resources to her continuing education.
Amy believes that some of the best learning derived from the experience came from the leadership development section: “They spent a lot of time with us to develop our soft skills as a leader. I’m using this education to improve relationships with district stakeholders.”
Those joining Amy as the first nine certified Main Street America Revitalization Professionals include:
- Alex Balloon, Tacony Community Development Corporation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Breann Bye, 6th Avenue Corridor, Des Moines, Iowa
- Patrick Kay, Downtown Americus – Main Street, Americus, Georgia
- Derek Lumsden, Osceola Area Chamber & Mainstreet Program, Osceola, Iowa
- Donnie Rodgers, Downtown Lee’s Summit, Lee’s Summit, Missouri
- Diana Schwartz, Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership, Ocala, Florida
- Martin Smith, Barracks Row Main Street Inc., Washington, D.C.
- Sarah Thompson, Hamilton County S.E.E.D., Webster City, Iowa