Department News

The 2017 NC Main Street Conference

The NC Main Street Conference is the state’s largest downtown revitalization event. This year’s North Carolina Main Street Conference was held from March 14 – 16 in Shelby, North Carolina. It offers learning sessions, tours, time for downtown exploration and opportunities for networking with downtown professionals, elected officials, volunteers and consultants. This year’s theme is “Main Street: What’s Your Strategy?” It explores North Carolina’s economic drivers and the innovative downtown applications that occur across the state with the Main Street program. Two of our graduate students; Emily-Kate Hannapel and Christopher Vann spoke at the conference. They presented information on behalf of Main Street managers, property owners, and small businesses. Emily-Kate and Christopher explained the benefits of using design strategies to increase sales in small businesses. Their topic was motivated  by the core benefit of the Main Street program  to contribute to historic preservation in the context of economic development.

Small businesses occupy an essential role in sustaining a community’s prosperity. They are open to using existing resources available in their historic commercial districts. However, small businesses must compete with an increase in online retail AND major retail chains. Thus, Emily-Kate and Christopher addressed the burning question: how can property owners and small business compete? They guided their audience through a four part self assessment; foundational to design thinking. The four-phased process guides a business through the customer experience sequence. It focuses on the involvement of a business or product from the customer’s perspective. This focus contributes to the profitability of a business. It is easy for customers to buy a product online or in a national chain, but rarely do these consumers experience the level of engagement that design thinking companies can offer.

Emily-Kate and Christopher’s presentation was followed by an assessment of businesses in the community. It offered an immediate application of their strategy in the field. By the end of the presentation they effectively led their audience through the experience of their strategy.