All About The National Main Street Conference: Kelly Humrichouser from The National Main Street Center
Why should you attend the Main Street Now Conference in Seattle, March 25-27, 2019? Should you attend even if you aren't a Main Street community? What other educational opportunities does the National Main Street Center offer?
Well, find out in this episode!
To learn more about the Conference: https://www.mainstreet.org/howwecanhelp/mainstreetnow
Name: Kelly Humrichouser
Organization: National Main Street Center
Title: Associate Manager of Education
Address: The National Main Street Center, Inc.
53 West Jackson Blvd., Suite 350
Chicago, IL 60604
Kelly joined the National Main Street Center in 2016. As Associate Manager of Education, Kelly manages the Main Street America Institute program and education offerings of the Main Street Now conference. Prior to the NMSC, Kelly worked at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), including implementing the school’s strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. Originally from northeast Ohio, Kelly graduated with a B.A. in Art History from Kenyon College and an M.S. in Historic Preservation from SAIC.
Kelly wanted me to be sure to note the following:
The Main Street Now Conference is not possible without the hard work and support of our state-wide partners, including the Washington Main Street Program and Washington Trust for Historic Preservation (Seattle, 2019) and the Missouri Main Street Connection (Kansas City, 2018).
Megan Tsui: Hello, everybody. Today my guest is Kelly Humrichouser from the National Main Street Center, and I'm so excited to have Kelly on with me today to talk about National Main Street and the National Main Street Conference that's coming up in March in Seattle. So welcome, Kelly.
Kelly Humrichouser: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Megan. Great to talk to you again.
M: Yeah. I actually met Kelly when I was at a, what was it called - Historic Real Estate Certification Course through the National Development Center. Is that right? Did I get that right?
K: Very, very close. We did the Historic Real Estate Finance Series Certificate Program offered through the National Development Council. And the Main Street America Institute was able to partner with the National Development Council to bring that content to Main Street managers and other historic real estate professionals. And, so yeah, we met in Des Moines and we were just in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, and now we're here.
M: Yeah, and I, that was probably the hardest class I've taken outside of, outside of, you know, college algebra. But I think it was so helpful and so good. And most people didn't think it was hard. So, it was just me.
K: I thought it was hard too. I was very grateful that I was able to participate in the course and kind of be the coordinator for bringing that content through the institute to the group of people that we had with us. So it was like really wonderful because it’s really hands-on and you do have to do a lot of math. But at the end of the day, you're able to just understand so much more of the conversation around development in all these communities.
M: Well that's what I was, that's why I went and why I decided that that was going to be an important thing and my, why my board said yes to the travel costs and things like that. But what was great is I got some scholarship money from, you want to talk about the scholarship opportunity? And then also the there was some travel cost reimbursement because we're a smaller Main Street. So just mention that quick because I want to make sure people know about that great resource.
K: Yeah. We were able, through the support that we had from the 1772 foundation, to subsidize highly, highly, the cost of this course so that Main Street managers are able to participate. We know that two weeks during any year out of the office to do an in-person training that also has a cost admin training process associated, it's a lot, it's a lot for anybody to handle. So we highly highly subsidized the course through that partnership. And we were also able to provide a few travel scholarships to make it a lot easier for people to be in an AirBnB or a hotel for a week while they're kind of going out to these different communities. So, we do hope to be able to do that again in the future. Always kind of an interest from our network in that possibility.
But just, you know, everyone that was involved. We're so grateful to the support of the 1772 Foundation and our partners at the National Development Council. That's something that, you know, we want to continue to work with them because they have such great knowledge on how economic development and real estate deals really work.
M: Well and I, you know, as a small, you know Main Street organization, we wouldn't have been able to do it without those, that help. And so we really appreciate the National Main Street and the foundation, and the National Development Center, we’re able to collaborate and bring that all together and make it affordable so thanks for your efforts on that and everyone else's. And I think, would people be able to learn about those opportunities if they get on your mailing list? Because I believe that's where I saw it.
K: Yeah absolutely. In fact, you know, specific to the educational opportunities, I would encourage anybody who's interested in future opportunities like that to email email@example.com. I'm sure we'll put that in the details but firstname.lastname@example.org is for the institute specifically and that will get you kind of on my list to tell you specifically about opportunities like this that you might be interested in. Generally, we encourage everybody to always pay attention to everything that you're receiving. If you're a Main Street Member or you're just interested in keeping up to date with our with our weekly news. There are so many opportunities that come through our regular mailing list as well.
M: All right, we'll make sure to put that in the show note so people have a link to get to that easily. OK. So, that's how we met, that's how we got to know each other a little bit. We sat at the same table. We laughed a lot and I thought it would be so great for you to come on the podcast and talk about what National Main Street is and then what is the big conference that's coming up and why someone who is a Main Street Community, inside of Main Street Community, would want to attend. And then why somebody who isn't part of the Main Street Program yet might want to attend. So, let's get started. What, what is National Main Street?
K: Yeah. The National Main Street Center, and some folks probably know it as Main Street America, are really kind of one and the same. So either way that you're using those terms, we're a national organization that supports commercial district revitalization across the country. Most people call the Main Streets in some other places, they might be neighborhoods, commercial districts, and larger urban areas. We're really focused on both. And we provide, you know, education training and networking opportunities. Our conference and the advocacy technical assistance, really, we tried to do a little bit of everything and hopefully, we do it successfully.
So we've been around for about 40 years it was a program started by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the late 70s, early 80s, to try to bring back life to places that were kind of disinvested. You know, when you started building more, new construction out towards highways and maybe downtowns, weren't seeing as much, as much of the action. And so, in the shopping mall era, a lot of, a lot of downtowns weren't thriving, and so this effort was started by the National Trust really for the preservation of buildings but also the community. And then it's grown into more of an economic development format. And so, it's a very interdisciplinary way to look at bringing life to downtowns, but it works and it works really well. So now we are an independent non-profit. Well we're still very closely partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But we try to bring tools to folks like yourself out in Red Wing and in communities across the country.
M: Well, I think it's just about the coolest thing because, as you said, it does, it's comprehensive, and what a lot of people don't always see about their downtown is how it's such a mix of both residential, commercial, community, nonprofits, churches. There's just so many different things that happen in a lot of our downtowns and so to have a organization like the National Main Street Center understand that and then help us create a foundation and create a way for us to, you know, wear more boots on the ground, support that, is just, it's phenomenal. And I'm glad the organization is here and that it continues to get funded, and I hope it continues to because it's, it's economic development at the very heart of our communities. So, I love it. Okay, and what is your role there Kelly?
K: Well, my role as, my title is Associate Manager of Education. And what that means for me on a day to day is that I manage programming for our Main Street America Institute. That's the program that we were talking about previously that was a partnership with the National Development Council but through the Main Street America Institute. The Institute is really a credentialing program for folks that are working in commercial district revitalization as Main Street directors or managers to hone their skills, to learn new skills, to kind of have a checkpoint for their competency as a Main Street Manager. And we offer a credential called the Main Street America Revitalization Professional Credential. That's kind of the pinnacle of achievement in our world right now, I believe. And it's a program that has been built upon a previous program that was offered through the Main Street Center called the Certified Main Street Manager Program. That program, you know, existed for about 20 years and kind of went through a hiatus period and now we've brought it back kind of as the Main Street America Institute.
So we do online courses and workshops and in addition to that I also work on education through our conference, which I know we will talk much more about, but there are over 100 education sessions and special events, kind of other jazz. And then as with any nonprofit, you know, everybody has their other duties as assigned. So I hope I try to make myself helpful in other ways. But, you know, our team is varied and kind of constantly in kind of dynamic shifts and always everybody's kind of helping each other out. So just as with any, I'm sure, Main Street program our team is constantly doing a million things.
M: Yeah. And yeah sometimes it's slow, sometimes it's crazy and you have to be ready to do it, step in. I think that's just the nature of the Main Street, I don't know, it's almost like you're the pathos of Main Street.
M: Jump in wherever you need to.
K: Right, right, right.
M: What's your background? How did you get started in this area of work?
K: It's, you know, it's one of those circuitous paths, I think. My first job I think, I had a couple of jobs when I was like 16, and one was at a candy and gift shop on a Main Street in my town and the other was a soda fountain, like a historic soda fountain. I was like a soda jerk.
M: Woah, you were like original, OG Main Street stuff right there.
K: Right. Right. The soda fountain, I mean I loved the place. It closed, I think, in 2002 after 96 years in business. But it was really interesting back then to kind of see the little system that the downtown business owners and how everyone worked together and how they were working with the city when the city was trying to build a new development behind the Main Street and kind of understand all those dynamics. And at that time I heard about the Main Street program, but it kind of, I think, went over my head, like, I was like, “Oh, what? People do this as a, as a job.”
That’s crazy, but, you know, I went to undergrad and took a course that was focused on historic preservation when I was a senior. I kind of got a job eventually after college. Got into a historic preservation program. And through that, and kind of very dynamic different circumstances, I was like, “Oh yeah, Main Street Center makes a whole lot of sense for me.” I had a background in some educational programming, so it really kind of came together. But yeah, it's something you, I don't know if anybody, really aims for that or if it's just kind of something that happens you know.
M: Right, yeah, I don't know a lot of like, 16-year-olds are, like, “I can't wait to work on Main Street.”
K: Right. Right. But maybe they should, right?
M: We should change that. So you have a huge conference coming up here in March that I'm really excited for, for many reasons. Tell us about that. What's coming up?
K: Yes. So every year we have the Main Street Now Conference. This is annually the largest national gathering of downtown revitalization professionals, Main Street managers. We've had, I think, last year we had more than sixteen hundred attendees. So we're actually expecting a bigger turnout this year. The conference is March 25th to 27th in Seattle, Washington. And Seattle is just such a cool destination. I can imagine that, you know, a real drop for some people, just being able to come out to the Pacific Northwest if you, if you haven't been before. But, you know, relative to the content, you know, like I said previously, we've got over 100 education sessions and some really cool special events planned. And you can still register, so you can register up until the day of the event if you, if you want to come out. But I would say for anybody who's listening, look at it fast because hotels are going quick and, you know, you want to make sure you get in there and plan your experience a little bit.
M: Yeah, I can't wait. I mean the last year was my first conference. It was in Kansas City. And I had such an amazing time that it was just so great to be around other people like me. I mean other people who are, most people are outgoing. They're community-minded, and that doesn't just mean their community, it means the community of Main Street. And they're fun and curious and it just, it was such a great experience to be around all these people who love their Main Streets and love their downtowns just like I do. So, I can't say enough about that conference and how great it was. All the sessions I went to were very well done. The facility was amazing. It was just top notch. So, I love it. I am doing a couple of sessions there too. So I'm excited to, connect with some people in that way as well.
So, what is the one session you think that is, you're most excited for people to take advantage of. I mean, besides mine! But what are the other ones? I have one in mind that I can't wait to go to, but I want to hear what yours is. Do you have one?
K: You tell me about yours first so that we don't pick the same one, and it feels unethical for me to pick one.
M: OK, fine I'll tell you. The one that I think I'm pretty excited for is the one about how to have dogs downtown.
K: Oh that's so great! I've been communicating with Britin, who is the speaker there. She's got some excellent resources to bring and it is an issue that we, you know, we were like very excited when someone submitted on the topic because it is something that so many downtown programs need to deal with. I know, you know, my mom wants to bring her dog everywhere.
M: Yeah, exactly.
K: I'm like, how do we do this best?
M: If you live in California, everybody does bring their dogs everywhere. They're in the grocery stores, they're in, they're not service dogs, they're just dogs. And so and I think it can be a competitive advantage for our community. I know there's, there's a community not far from here that's very small. And I mean I think they may have a couple hundred people. They still have a few historic buildings from their downtown and they just come alive in the summer and then they have you know the Dog Days of Stockholm, where they have a weekend where thousands and thousands of people come out with their dogs to this little town and just take over. And I just think it's brilliant. It's just such a great marketing strategy. So that's why I'm excited to hear about it.
K: Yeah. That's a good pick. Like I say I feel a little bit, you know I don't want to steer too many, too many people in one direction or the other based on what I would think. I'm pretty excited for some of our kind of general sessions, so go ahead and plug those. We have Jim and Deb Fallows. They're authors of a book called Art Sounds.
M: I didn't know that.
K: Yeah, they're going to come on Tuesday morning for a general session discussion with our president and CEO Patrice Frye. So, we're very excited about that. They've been wonderful partners so far and so we're going to have their book and have a book signing as well, so we're excited about several of our general sessions. But I also want to say specifically, I'm excited this year. We have a focus on, leadership and partnerships. And so we've given a significant discount to civic leaders. We're talking elected officials and people in upper-level management positions of municipalities to attend the conference for an extremely reduced rate. And this is something, you know, we're gearing educational programming specifically for them. There's a luncheon hosted by our Board Chair, Ed McMahon, specifically for the civic leaders at the conference to learn how they can better support a Main Street program. And for them to really feel the value of the Main Street program in their communities. And that's really huge for us because we know that those partnerships are so important. And for some communities to have, kind of be the strength that they need at the table with their city team, it'd be really great if we could tell them a little bit more about all the possibilities that Main Street could bring. So we're really jazzed about that.
M: That is so exciting because if you don't have, in my experience anyway, and even in the experience that I've seen in other towns in Minnesota if you don't have your city leaders on board, it's such an uphill battle. And so if you can get them to these sessions, get them to hear about the great work that Main Street does and encourage them to help support a membership to National Main Street and/or their state Main Street, what a huge effort that goes towards making it happen in the community. So thank you to the National Main Street Center for offering that discount because I think that is a game changer for a lot of, especially smaller communities. So thank you for that.
K: Yeah we hope so. You know it's something that we hope it, it's a relationship that you could bring to the conference and then continue to grow from there so that it's not you know a one-stop event but really begins the discussion.
M: Right. And I'm, you know, what I love about the conferences, it's things that are very practical. Those are the things that I'm talking about. I'm doing a session on hosting a retail challenge. How to fill vacant storefronts in your downtown. And then the other one is how to tell your downtown story with social media. So you'll come away with real actionable things that Main Street has actually done. It's not theoretical, it's very action oriented. And a lot of the sessions are like that, you know, my hand hurt last year from taking notes to really dive into all of the different presentations and ideas. But then you also learn about things like the topic of this, you know, what we just talked about, was, the leadership and the partnerships and building those kinds of things that kind of make having a main street and being a main street manager easier when you have those partnerships and collaborations. Those don't always, you can't, that is not a one size fits all. That's a lot of times, you know, there are personalities involved, there's different budgeting processes that are involved, etc. But you get to hear about how other people have done it and get inspired. So I think that's what I love about the conference the most, is, it's both higher level and then also nuts and bolts right down on the ground of what you can take back to your main street tomorrow and get working on.
K: With that in mind I'm gonna plug one session that I think is a really, a great idea that has been proposed just for this conference and our state coordinator in Virginia, Rebecca Rowe, and Diana Schwartz, who is the Executive Director of the River District Association in Danville Virginia, are doing a session and we've scheduled it for kind of in the afternoon. But after the conference, how to make it happen. So the concept there is to bring together what you're learning because there are so many ideas. You're gonna have so many notes. And we do need to check in sometimes and really think like, how do you take this home and implement it. So if any session that I would individually plug, I'll give it to that one.
M: That's a good one because it encompasses everything. It's very safe. Good job.
K: Thank you.
M: So if you are, I think it's pretty clear, we made pretty clear why if you're a Main Street Community, why you should attend. I think that's not necessarily hard to imagine the reasons why, but what if you aren't yet? What if you're Joe Blow or Jane Doe working in a community, working on downtown and stuff along your main street but you're not a member, why should you attend this?
K: Yeah, that's such a great question. And I love it because, you know, so often we find that there's a perception out in the world that if you're not from a recognized, certified Main Street America community then this isn't for you somehow. And it actually, it is. We have folks from so many different fields: planners, architects, developers, government staff, as we were talking about before, and volunteers, board members, interested community members, always, I think, take away a lot from the conference as well. It's always interdisciplinary content. It's issues that are not just for somebody who necessarily is managing the downtown. You could be a small business owner in the downtown and take a lot away from that session on pets on Main Street as well, you know. We also do offer credit for the American Institute of Certified Planners and the American Institute of Architects continuing education, so professionals from those fields, we are we are trying to make it easier for them to attend because it can be kind of a checking off a box or they need to have in their career path on their on this list. So we are doing that type of outreach, but this is a conference that's just about so much. It's about how communities work, and so if you're in a community and trying to make it work, which applies to just a myriad of types of people, then this is for you, you know. And then, as we talked about before, we have an emphasis on partnerships and we want to make sure that all of the partners at the table as well. So, you know, of course, that includes the elected officials and civic leaders that we were talking about, but it could include any type of partnership. I would also encourage a Main Street manager, think of the conference as something that you can also reach out to other folks in your town and encourage them to come with you, especially if there's some topic that you're trying to tackle together. This might be a great place to kind of get some ideas for it.
M: That’s what I noticed last year is that there were some kind of groups from one community, and a lot of times it was the mayor, it was Member 2 from the Council, the main street manager, maybe the chamber director or, you know, so that just makes so much sense to come together. You get to go to different sessions or the same sessions if it's around something that you're out working towards and then come together and talk about what you learned. And so, it's just such a great way to learn and to expand and to be inspired. I will say what you bring up about planners, developers, architects. That is kind of a group that I don't assume, you know, would go to something like this, but yet they are the ones with the money. I mean, they're the ones with the connections to the developers and to investors and to the banks in their community, who've worked on projects, especially in historic preservation or with historic tax credits or whatever. And they're the ones that are visionaries, and so that's been a pleasant surprise for me. I mean, the other group I kind of assumed would go that makes sense but this other group of, those other kinds of professionals, it's been such a pleasant surprise for me to meet them and learn more about how they're working inside Mean Streets. And I just can't say enough about how wonderful it is to have that opportunity at the National Main Street conference to connect to one another and to figure out where those resources lie. So that's another benefit I think that may not be as obvious.
K: Yeah, Absolutely.
M: Yeah. So if you were going to give a piece of advice to a Main Street manager or someone who's working hard in their downtown to revitalize it, what advice would you give them?
K: Well, I think from my perspective and the perspective of our team at the National Main Street Center, it's to really make sure that, you know, if you are a Main Street member that you are taking full advantage of your membership. There are so many ways to do so. Through a Main Street America membership, you have access to webinars, resources, a really great discount to the Main Street America Institute program for some professional development. We have so many guides and so many kinds of hard copy resources and they're really interactive at this point. You know, we're always interested in hearing back from folks and updating our resources to make them applicable in various situations. And then just in the past year, we've also launched something called The Point, which is a member network based through our membership system. It really allows for interaction, and people hold really great dialogue there. And there's no, there's no greater resource than your peers. So I think that's what I would say to anybody who is currently a member is to really make sure that you are getting everything that you can out of your membership.
And very self-serving, think about the Main Street America Institute. We have some really great courses and we're always developing more. There's great opportunities there. But if you're not a Main Street member, if you're looking at this again from that perspective of, I'm not, you know, part of this kind of accredited network, you know, how can I participate? We have a general membership. You don't have to be part of your statewide program in order to join us as a community. And we also have a new membership format that’s called Friends of Main Street. If you are out there and you're just kind of interested, you want to know more about it. Friends on Main Street is kind of a low-cost entry-level way just to make sure you're receiving our conference discounts and, you know, weekly updates from the National Main Street Center so that you are aware of opportunities of, you know, resources and it's not a huge commitment up front.
So we're always happy to talk more about, more about membership. I know my colleagues who specifically work on membership will be like, "Yay! Questions!" But I really think, you know, the conferences is a huge part of this network every year so, the advice is also, attend the conference, make sure that your hand is cramping from all those notes and go home and make some changes. You know, we always talk about the main aspect of this work is really, you know, trying to find other great examples, from podcasts too, to duplicate and obviously have to consider the context of your own community when you're doing so. But this is all about trial and error sometimes with really great examples from other communities. And a lot of that can be found at the conference. And then, you know, there are those best practices that we want to get out there and we do that through all of our member resources, but again, really specifically the conference.
M: Well, I think that you just wrapped it up very, very nicely and put a bow on it because I think that's exactly, you know, I think it's such a wonderful conference and I will hope to meet as many people as possible there this year. Last year I had a terrible cold. So I was I was just going through, but I can't wait this year to get there and get to the, I know there's some parties and some networking opportunities that I am looking forward to as well. So, and I'm assuming that you're all there and ready to answer any and all questions at the conference.
K: Oh, yes. So as an attendee at the conference, you can always find information at our booth in the exhibit hall or through the registration table if you ever have questions. We want to make it accessible to you as possible. I will say it's really highly recommended to make sure that you download the mobile app, it's available through our website, in advance of attending, so that you're all set to go once you arrive. We'd love it if you took a look at the schedule in advance and kind of planned out where you thought you might want to be so that you have a better sense of, you know, what sessions you want to attend, and you are not scrambling then. And make sure to read through kind of some of the session descriptions and just plan your experience a little bit. I'll also say, Seattle has great public transit. Don't feel like you have to take a cab from the airport. The train is great.
M: That is a good hint because I think it's it's a busy downtown from what I understand, and the conference is located in a great spot, so hopefully people will have lots of ease getting around. I can't wait to see Seattle. Never been there. It's definitely been a place on my bucket list. And so I just can't wait. I'm ready for it to get here, plus it's, you know, very, very chilly here in Minnesota and in Chicago where Kelly is, and so I am just trying to think happy, warmer thoughts and anywhere else in the country than here at the moment.
M: Well, thanks so much Kelly. I really appreciate you coming on and talking about National Main Street, the conference, and all of the great resources that are available to folks who care about their downtowns. And I appreciate that you said, you know, it's really all about a big borrowing and stealing from each other. And one of the things I love about Main Street that I have not found in other areas that I've worked in is that no one hoards information or good ideas. It's almost like, we can't wait to share what's worked in our downtown. There just is not a sense of competition at the Main Streets that I've ever encountered. So, you know, instead of trying to recreate the wheel or, you know, try to think of ideas that are outside the box on your own and get started and learn the hard way, you can learn from other people and what they've, been through. And you mentioned The Point, which is part of the National Main Street Center's website. I love that I just kind of, you know, got really dug into it just a few weeks ago, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh! Where has this been for the last couple of years.” It's people who have sample documents and sample marketing pieces and good ideas about contacts and all sorts of things that, in that, I'm sure I'm not doing it justice. But that's a great resource. What I will do is in the show notes make sure to put links to everything we talked about, so links to how to register for the conference, links to your email if people want more information about the institute and what they can sign up for in there, or other information they might need and make sure that people know how to get connected to you.
K: Excellent. Well, I look forward to speaking to people and seeing everyone at the conference. I apologize in advance if you see me and I'm in running shoes and scrambling by, but feel free to say hello.
M: Awesome! I mean, I did not know there were sixteen hundred people last year. And that's a pretty good testament to a well-run conference because sixteen hundred people could feel like a massive amount of chaos, and it did not feel that way, Kelly. It was amazing. So you did a great job and your team is stellar at this, they are obviously pros. So I can't wait for this year to have even more folks be able to come and share all the great stuff about Main Street. So, thank you so much for being here. Appreciate it. And we'll see you in Seattle.
K: Excellent. Thank you, Megan.
M: All right. Thanks, Kelly.