Elkhorn, East Troy join Connect Communities

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 8, 2015

ELKHORN—Officials from the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance are hoping ideas will drive downtown revitalization in two communities. 

In July, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced that 18 communities, including Elkhorn and East Troy, had been named Connect Communities.

WEDC describes the program as “an initiative that works with communities to advance downtown and urban corridor revitalization efforts.”

The program doesn't provide money for initiatives, only resources, training and ideas tested in other communities--all valuable commodities. 

Cathy Anderson, executive assistant of the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance, applied for the program on behalf of East Troy and Elkhorn.

“Connect Communities is a program for cities who aren't ready or aren't eligible to be a part of the Main Street Program,” Anderson said. “They might never be eligible for the program.”

The Main Street Program was started in 1980 through the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Coordinating programs are run at the state level by agencies such as the WEDC. The Main Street Program requires a municipality to hire a person to focus on downtown economic and cultural development.

The Connect Communities program gives communities the same educational resources and guidance as the Main Street Program but does not require the municipality to hire someone to run the program.

In Walworth County, Anderson will be leading the charge for both communities.

Here's how it will work:

Elkhorn and East Troy have economic development alliances with volunteer board members.

Working with those board members, the business communities, civic organizations and others, each group will take an inventory of each district's strengths and needs.

In Elkhorn, the focus will be on the area around the square where the county government building is located, Anderson said.

From there, each Connect Communities group will develop ideas for improving downtown. Ideas could be as simple as organizing special events within the district, working to market empty spaces, encouraging storefront displays, creating a streetscape, extending business hours one night a month or being creative with empty space.

They might develop open air activities such as movies in the park, a reading group on the lawn of the county building, an evening farmers market, a car show around the square or trick or treating in downtown.

Part of the challenge will be “rethinking what's already in place,” Anderson said. In other words, they will be looking at what the downtown has that's valuable and how to make it even more so.

Even though the state doesn't provide any money, it gives Connect Communities resources such as online conferences with downtown development experts, links to college and university student projects and connections to other communities working on some of the same issues.

In Elkhorn, Anderson will be meeting with the economic development group Thursday, Aug. 13.

In East Troy, the meeting is Wednesday, Aug. 19.

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