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A Fresh Perspective on Carthage

May 30, 2023

The Downtown Strong: Building Resilient Economies grant is a grant provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration through Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) that continues to impact Missouri communities.

Over that past two years, MMSC and our team of consultants have been working with 16 Main Street organizations and 61 businesses in 20 communites across the state  to build more resilent economies and stronger downtowns.  The Downtown Strong: Building Resilient Economies grant services will be completed this September. As the grant nears it completion, the momentum it has created across the state is still growing. One of the recipients of the Downtown Strong Grant that demonstrates the long-lasting impact of receiving trailored services is Vision Carthage.

As a newer Main Street organization in Carthage, MO, Vision Carthage saw this grant as an opportunity to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic that their district had felt while fostering a stronger, more resilient downtown business environment. In the fall of 2021, they received assistance from Cygnet Strategies, LLC where a recruitment plan for local entrepreneurs to open new businesses downtown as well as a 2nd story development plan that explored options for utilizing the upper stories of buildings were developed. In 2021, a team from Cygnet Strategies traveled to Carthage where they assessed the district’s situation and talked to local leaders and business and property owners firsthand.

Based upon the observations of the team that visited Carthage, Vicky Soderberg, principal of Cygnet Strategies, recognized that many of the issues and ideas for improvement affected both business recruitment and upper story development in downtown Carthage and required strategies that worked complementarily together. Additionally, Vision Carthage had previously established a set of goals and strategies, including transformation strategies, as part of their organization’s development. She delivered an Analysis and Recommendations Report developed from the findings of their initial site visit that tied together the improvement strategies with the organization’s established transformation strategies, using an approach that understood the vast number of changing circumstances and growing list of needs not formerly identified.

The report outlined five targeted actions to strengthen Carthage’s downtown and its resiliency while building upon the already-identified, established, and developed community-based organizational strategies. She challenged the organization to:

  • Lead changes to regulatory frameworks and knock down barriers to doing business in Carthage.

  • Increase awareness of and advocate for development that goes beyond the first floor.

  • Outline and communicate a well-defined downtown experience to help businesses succeed and make residential development desirable.

  • Prioritize community development efforts that align with Carthage’s identity and vision.

  • Account for and articulate the value and impact of Vision Carthage via storytelling designed to enhance downtown visibility and awareness.

Cygnet Strategies went on to break down these actions into smaller, tactical steps that Vision Carthage could work through to accomplish the overall action goal.

The director of Vision Carthage at the time, Abi Almandinger, shared that having the team from Cygnet Strategies visit Carthage provided a fresh perspective and an outsider’s viewpoint that was invaluable. Since the site visit and report was delivered, Vision Carthage has had a transition in leadership with a new director. Jen Kirby, the new director, shared that having this report and its recommendations have been beneficial to her through the transition.  Not only has it provided an analysis that helped her in her learning curve, but it has also given her a tangible reference to use as she, the Board, and other volunteers make plans.  She noted it has been great to have something to use as a guide and a resource, knowing they are able to tweak the recommendations to fit their ever-changing needs and opportunities.

The services included in this article were prepared by Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. using Federal funds under award 05-79-06056 from Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Pictured Above: Vision Carthage’s ice-skating is a great opportunity for families to come downtown and have fun during Hometown Holidays.

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