NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Local officials are encouraging residents to put a smile on this Thursday and Friday to welcome representatives from the Small Business Revolution.
The program is doing a scouting trip in and around the downtown this week to weigh the possibility of North Adams making the final cut for a $500,000 downtown marketing and makeover boost.
"They're basically going to be going to all the small businesses they can in a matter of two days ... so they're tyring to get a feel for what the city's all about," said City Councilor Benjamin Lamb, in addressing viewers at Tuesday's council meeting. "They will be here so if you see any faces you don't recognize say hi to them and welcome them here."
The challenge is sponsored by Minnesota-based Deluxe Corp., which has been providing small businesses with printing, design and now web publishing resources for a century. It services some 4.5 million small-business customers and more than 5,000 financial institutions.
North Adams and seven other communities from across the nation made the semifinals in November from some 14,000 online votes cast. Led by Amanda Brinkman, Deluxe's chief brand and communications officer, the team is visiting each of the semifinalists to speak with small-business owners about their challenges, dreams and possibilities.
The contest grew out of Deluxe's centennial when it looked to highlight 100 small businesses. After speaking with owners, and seeing the decline of small-town centers, the company developed the Small Business Revolution. Last year's winner, Wabash, Ind., was featured in an eight-part documentary as the team, along with "Shark Tank's" Robert Herjavec, worked to help revitalize its downtown.
Wabash's situation is similar to North Adams', close enough to "be scary," said Lamb. The town of 10,000 lost a major employer a few years back and saw its population drop by several thousand.
It's got empty buildings, struggling small businesses — and a major cultural attraction two blocks from downtown. The Honeywell Center concert theater draws around 200,000 people a year, only a small percentage who make it to downtown Wabash.
Wabash got wayfaring signage, facade improvements, a small park and billboards to help it market itself. Selected store owners received technical assistance in finances, websites, marketing help and some physical improvements.
Downtown businesses are being encouraged to be open and ready for cameras and video, and to speak with the Deluxe team. The team will be in the city on Thursday afternoon and the earlier part of the day on Friday meeting with local officials, community leaders and business owners.
The team will make the decision which three or four communities become finalists; the winner will be determined by online voting.
"We do not know which businesses they will be visiting, but will guide them to as many areas beyond the immediate downtown as possible, as well as through the downtown," the city's event coordinator Suzy Helme informed North Adams Chamber of Commerce members.
The Deluxe focuses on the positives and officials are hoping the city's beauty, natural resources, cultural opportunities, educational resources and blooming opportunities will make an impression.
"I hope you see and love our community as most of us do. ... Large industry has come and gone, affecting population, services, and morale for over a century, yet those who are here, stand strong and committed to make this the best home we can," wrote Keith Bona, a city councilor and owner of Berkshire Emporium, on his Facebook page. "A cultural renascence has been slowly emerging for two decades changing the landscape that is unfamiliar to some, exciting to most, and drawing others to come here that would have never considered it before."
Residents can help out by liking the Facebook pages of the Small Business Revolution and Deluxe Corp. and posting positive pictures and videos explaining why they love North Adams. Business owners should post why their stores should be visited. Always use the hashtag #MyNorthAdams.
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