The Power of Baby Steps
The Laurel Mercantile has a fantastic print and now a mug with the uplifting saying, “We have the POWER to do this.” This phrase was coined by the director of the HGTV series, Home Town, during their first summer of filming in sweltering South Mississippi. However, this phrase can be applied to anything. We like to apply this winning saying to our efforts as a Main Street America Accredited organization.
What started as a small, grass-roots movement to bring back Laurel’s downtown to its former glory has become a booming trend! It didn’t happen overnight or even over a year, but with a series of small, incremental improvements, these efforts provided momentum for long-term economic transformation and improved quality of life in our community. In the world of small towns and Main Street organizations this is referred to as “incrementalism.” Incrementalism is not flashy. It’s several small changes that take place over a period of time… like a domino chain reaction in slow motion.
For decades, the community and economic development field was hooked on what Patrice Frey, President & CEO of the National Main Street Center calls the “silver-bullet solution.” Shrinking budgets sent city leaders on a search for the “one big thing” that would transform their local economy, whether it was a big new commercial development, a pedestrian mall, or a convention center on the outskirts of town. Those of you who lived in Laurel through Urban Renewal will definitely remember the development of all these things. However, through years of research, we have learned that what our town has is much more important than what it’s missing. By focusing on what sets our community apart from others, Laurel Main Street, together with the City of Laurel and our partners, has been able to restore a thriving city center in downtown.
One of the special things about being part of Main Street America is that we aren’t doing this incremental work alone. We rely on a national network of partners and supporters. We are incredibly thankful for our city leaders for creating the environment for success by adding wayfinding signage, improving our streets, adding lighting, bike paths, ad valorem tax credits and continuing to work toward improving city services that businesses rely on.
Some would say that a town’s exports are the measure of its success, but at Laurel Main Street we believe it’s the people, not the products that are the heart of our town’s success story. These small steps and small victories have provided Laurel residents with an optimism about the future, a true sense of community pride, and a productive spirit of unity. We consider that a true success story.