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Laramie Main Street

Brookings Institution eyes Laramie’s downtown success

in Economic development/News
Laramie downtown
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Laramie is one of three cities across the nation selected by the Brookings Institution for a year-long study to catalog all the factors involved in creating a vital downtown shopping area.

“It feels like winning an Oscar,” said Trey Sherwood, the Laramie Main Street Alliance executive director. “It’s a huge honor for us to even be considered by somebody like Brookings to analyze the breadth of our work.”

Wheeling, West Virginia, and Emporia, Kansas, were also selected by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings to participate in the study, which is being conducted by the Brookings Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking and the National Main Street Center.

While many small and rural communities have successfully created an environment that is both fertile for entrepreneurs and engaging for residents, little has been done to comprehensively catalog and share those communities’ strategies for others to replicate, according to a Brookings news release. 

“The Transformative Placemaking Case Studies will help fill this gap by evaluating the impact of place-based entrepreneurship strategies on key outcomes, highlighting several successful examples and presenting replicable practices and lessonslearned for the field,” the release states.

The study is slated to involve:

  • Interviews, focus groups, and surveys with stakeholders and residents; 
  • Observations of relevant programming and public spaces; 
  • Quantitative analysis of indicators related to economic, physical, social and civic outcomes, and 
  • The development and dissemination of a brief that will outline lessons learned and promising practices for the field.

Laramie City Manager Janine Jordan said the announcement came as a surprise, but confirms the city is on the right track with the development of its downtown.

“I think it’s really exciting to see Wyoming selected,” Jordan said. “And it’s affirming, not just for city government, but to see all our partners and our collaborative work recognized.”

In the past decade, she said the city and its economic development partners such as Laramie Main Street Alliance and Laramie Chamber Business Alliance have worked on a series of projects to encourage entrepreneurs to locate in Laramie. Those included work to secure funding for projects involving companies such as University of Wyoming startup Bright Agrotech LLC, munitions manufacturer Tungsten Parts Wyoming and engineering firm Trihydro Corporation.

“We have been successful in pulling down about $30 million in grants for about 10 economic development projects,” Jordan added.

In January, the city could adopt a new economic development plan, which would emphasize continued investments in place-making throughout the community, she said.

Sherwood’s team is slated to work with the Brookings researchers throughout the study, which could kick off with an on-site visit in March, Sherwood said.

“They were really hoping to come out in January,” she explained. “But getting to and around Laramie in January can be challenging to say the least.”

For the Laramie Main Street Alliance, Sherwood said the study presents an opportunity to review past strategies.

“It’s very rare that an organization like ours is asked to pause and reflect,” she explained. “In the last 10 years alone, we’ve documented 296 renovation projects downtown valued at about $11.6 million, five new construction projects valued at $3 million, 38 public improvements valued at $4.5 million, 104 net new businesses and 509 net new jobs.”

The successes only tell half the story, and Sherwood said she hopes the study will help her organization see the big picture.

“It’s great to see what’s working,” she explained. “But, I think understanding what hasn’t worked as well is key to working toward an even better future.”

Online retail’s impact could be opportunity for ‘mom-and-pop shops’

in Economic development/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Online shopping is giving the Cowboy State’s brick-and-mortar retailers a run for their money, but it’s also creating new opportunities for local businesses, a Wyoming Business Council spokesperson said.  

“We’ve added 74 net new businesses and 168 net new jobs to the Wyoming economy in 2018,” said Tom Dixon, the Business Council’s content marketing manager. “When you’re looking at online shopping, an iPhone is an iPhone no matter where you buy it, but we’re seeing increased interest — especially in the younger generation — in unique and locally sourced products you can only find at a brick and mortar.”

Online retailers such as Amazon now offer one-day delivery options, providing a level of convenience close to that of a store with a physical location. But Trey Sherwood, executive director of the Laramie Main Street Alliance, said more and more Wyoming retailers are branching into new services to keep their customers coming back.

“We’re seeing businesses trying to close that leakage gap by offering services such as custom mail order purchases, where the business owner takes an order online or over the phone and puts the product in the mail that day,” Sherwood said. “There’s also a new trend called experience-based retail.”

Brick-and-mortar retailers are using face-to-face customer service, community building events and product workshops to create an experience beyond the simple exchange of money for goods, she explained.

Laramie’s historic downtown district experienced a serious slump during the 1970s, with businesses closing and storefronts sitting empty for years, but four decades later, Sherwood said the area is coming back strong — due in large part to reinvigoration efforts by the city and economic development organizations like Main Street.

“We don’t yet know to what extent our brick-and-mortar stores are being affected by online retail, but we know it is happening,” she said. “The pendulum will continue to swing, and we need to be prepared for what the next 50 years could bring.”

Creating a sense of place with art installments like the Laramie Mural Project is one way to keep consumers engaged with the local business community, but engagement can’t stop at the curb.

“There is an external conversation we need to have with our community — we simply can’t rely on buzz words like ‘shop small,’” Sherwood said. “We need to educate people in our communities about how spending money locally affects small economies.”

Large corporations aren’t immune to the pinch created by online shopping either, and several, including Shopko, Boot Barn and Kmart, recently pulled out of some Wyoming cities.

While the initial shock of losing a major retailer lingers for years, Dixon said the gaps left by big box stores can be beneficial.

“When something like that happens, the convenience is gone,” he said. “That provides a lot of opportunity for these mom-and-pop shops to expand their inventory and attract new customers.”

At the University of Wyoming College of Business, Elizabeth Minton, an associate professor of Marketing, has an eye on the future interactions of consumers and their retail preferences.

“I think in the coming years, we’re going to see a split,” Minton said. “People who are more money conscious are going to go online more, because it’s cheaper and likely will remain that way. People who are concerned about (economic) sustainability will likely shop more locally.”

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