In May of 2017 Eaton Rapids was approved for the Michigan Main Street Program, a program offered through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to aid communities in revitalizing their downtown and commercial districts. The Eaton Rapids Marketing Alliance has been the driving force behind the first steps toward getting Eaton Rapids involved in programs like Michigan Main Street.
After the approval of Eaton Rapids for the program last May, members of the marketing alliance and other community organizations like the DDA attended several training seminars about the program. It’s unclear at this point what specifically Eaton Rapids ambassadors gleaned from the training sessions, they no doubt were instructed on the finer of points of the program’s approach to community development. Things like economic structuring, promotion, design standards, and organization are the focuses for communities looking where to start.
Eaton Rapids has a long way to go before it’s in the thick of the program, however. According to Mayor Paul Malewski, who is also part of the DDA and ERMA, Eaton Rapids is only in the preliminary stages.
“We’re a long way from going to the next level in the program. We have to fill out some more applications before we move into next phase,” said Malewski.
Obstacles like funding, and hiring a director for the program still remain. The rules of the program require a director specifically for the program. The DDA director, or a similar role, can’t be held while also directing Michigan Main Street involvement. The Marketing Alliance doesn’t have specific answers to these difficulties yet, but Malewski, as well as others, are confident in the benefit and usefulness of the program.
Michigan Main Street has several notable success stories, one of which is neighboring Charlotte. The main street program along with others like the state’s Rising Tide program have helped focus several community efforts in Charlotte into promoting the town and equipping businesses to be established and successful.
Eaton Rapids’ involvement in the main street program comes alongside other community efforts like the newly established Teen Center, and workshops like Create Place with the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. While Michigan Main Street aims to specifically target the downtown and commercial sides of communities, the goal is that the collective efforts feed into one another to promote Eaton Rapids as a town worthy of new businesses, as well as attracting out of town shoppers and tourists.
Michigan Main Street has three levels of involvement, beginning with Engaged Level, moving to Select Level, and ending with Master Level. According to Malewski, there’s still more work to be done before Eaton Rapids even identifies in the Engaged Level, like taking photographs of the downtown, thoroughly documenting the businesses and vacancies in the downtown, and forming an official main street organization, or driving committee.
Even so, the excitement grows over the potential of participating in a program that has aided communities across the state to become more economically stable and relevant, while earning the recognition small towns deserve.