OWOSSO — Two local nonprofit leaders were selected to make a presentation on a topic they know a lot about — downtown collaborations — at the recent annual National Main Street Conference hosted this year in Seattle, Washington.
Tracey Peltier, market master of the Downtown Owosso Farmers Market, and Owosso Historical Commission Director Robert Doran led the session at the conference, which they attended March 25-27 with Owosso Main Street Director Josh Adams, who goes every year.
“The most important thing I learned was what great colleagues I work with in Owosso,” Doran, an employee of the city of Owosso, said Tuesday. “We’d tell people from other communities about what we were able to accomplish here, and they’d be surprised.
“They don’t have the kind of collaborative partnerships we have here. I have the honor of working with such incredible people — business owners, city officials and nonprofit leaders.”
At the conference, Doran shared his experience in organizing and presenting “Made in Owosso,” a 12-week exhibit in 2016 highlighting the city’s rich history in the retail and manufacturing industries at four different venues. To get a hold of the artifacts needed for the show, Doran had to enlist the help of many organizations and people.
“It would have been an impossible task own my own,” Doran said.
Peltier faces a similar challenge when presenting her Moonlight Market every year, an extravaganza typically featuring dozens of vendors, a luminary parade, children’s petting zoo, belly dancers and fortune tellers.
How do you get other nonprofits, businesses and community members to help out?
“You show them examples of how effective and fun it is to work together,” Peltier said. “Then they are more ready to have a conversation about helping.”
“You also work hard at establishing relationships with board directors in every nonprofit in your community,” Doran said.
Adams added: “There’s a strong myth that entities are harder to work with than individuals, and I disagree with that. Entities in Owosso are pretty open to working with each other.”
Adams hired on with the city when it became a Main Street Downtown Development Agency city in 2009. The Chicago-based National Main Street Center was created to address the problem of urban sprawl in the 1970s and ’80s, which spurred the emptying out of downtowns across the country.
Owosso joined the movement — now 4,000 cities strong — in order to take advantage of Main Street funding through the DDA and a fresh approach to revitalization that unites stakeholders, Adams said.
“Main Street brings people to the table — the nonprofits and business owners,” he said. “We ask them, what do you want to do with the tax dollars that have been generated?”
Two years ago, Owosso came up with a two-pronged strategy, based on Main Street principles, to achieve a short-term vision for downtown Owosso. The first was to make Owosso a day trip destination for the region; the second was to increase upper floor apartments downtown.
Achieving the first goal required implementing a transformation strategy to unite businesses around the day-trip vision.
“You get them all focused on a case study that shows how much collaboration can achieve,” Doran said, pointing to Made in Owosso and Moonlight Market as examples.
Once more people are brought to the table, there are more people among whom tasks can be assigned and more market resources to share. Adding more people, however, adds a challenge.
“You’re dealing with people,” Admas said. “So, how do you manage those relationships? You do it with a unified vision that everyone can support, that is bigger than the the individual or entity.”
Owosso submitted four potential presentations to the national conference, and only one — Peltier and Doran’s session on downtown collaborations — was chosen.
“It was so cool,” Peltier said. “People had a lot of questions about what we’re doing in Owosso. They wanted to learn from us.”
“They were shocked to see a community of our size have so many organizations working together,” Adams said. “We have a culture of collaboration here among nonprofits that’s strong and unique here.”
Doran said the Cook Family Foundation’s Nonprofit Capacity Building Program in Owosso has significantly aided the successful implementation of collaboration strategies.
“(The presentation) really rejuvenated us as well,” Peltier said. “To showcase who we were, it felt really, really good.”