NC Commerce: The NC Main Street Conference is Going Virtual – NC Dept of Commerce

The state’s annual downtown revitalization conference, the North Carolina Main Street Conference, will convene virtually again March 8-10 due to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.  Organized by the North Carolina Department of Commerce and its N.C. Main Street and Rural Planning Center, more than 700 economic development leaders attend this annual conference.  
The theme of the conference, Healthy Communities Begin on Main Street, is an exploration of the many ways that Main Street programs, in collaboration with their stakeholders and partners, are incorporating healthy lifestyle best practices into their downtown economic development strategies and implementation plans.  Between food, infrastructure, housing, education, job creation, equity and inclusion, and quality of life initiatives, Main Street programs are working with the public and private sectors to make significant improvements in their downtown districts.  
The 2022 conference will explore communities that are offering healthy living opportunities for residents, while also positioning themselves for increased investment and job creation.  Urban agriculture initiatives and the mitigation of food deserts are improving access to healthy food options.  Inclusive playground building, public space enhancements, and the intersection of trail development and downtown are increasing opportunities for daily physical activity.  From tiny house developments to mill redevelopment and upper story lofts, workforce housing is being addressed with creativity and investment.  Downtown educational facilities are reconnecting youth with the hearts of communities.  Small businesses are still the number one job creation sector and communities that are embracing small business support as an economic development strategy are seeing significant job growth and retention.
The 2020 census demonstrated the diversification of our state’s population that is spurring downtown programming to be more equitable and inclusive. The resurgence of quality-of-life initiatives are drawing people together in downtown in new, innovative, ways. N.C. Main Street communities have seen more than $4 billion in investment since the inception of the program in 1980, and more than $453 million in investment in fiscal year 2020-2021.  Healthy community initiatives are leveraging many of these investments, rebuilding downtowns to serve as neighborhoods for everyone, and bringing communities together to address common goals. 
As the nation’s largest statewide downtown revitalization conference, the N.C. Main Street Conference offers some of the most innovative approaches to downtown revitalization and redevelopment in the Southeast.
Attendees can expect a mix of inspiring keynotes, engaging plenary and break-out sessions, Main Street showcase mini-sessions, and downtown toolkit sessions that are designed to build long-term capacity at the local level.  
Keynote speakers include Mark Fenton, is a nationally recognized public health, planning, and transportation consultant, an adjunct associate professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and a former host of the “America’s Walking” series on PBS television, and Melody Warnick, a freelance writer and author of the book, This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are, a practical guide to loving the place where you live that has been featured in publications including the New York Times, Time magazine, Fast Company, and Psychology Today.  Fenton will begin the conference on Tuesday, March 8 with a discussion on Building 21st Century Main Streets for the Triple Bottom Line: Economy, Environment, and Public Health.  Warnick will speak on Wednesday, March 9 with a presentation on The Daily Practice of Loving Where You Live.
In addition to the keynotes, three plenary sessions are scheduled for the conference. On Tuesday, March 8, N.C. Senator Ted Alexander, Director of the Western Regional Office of Preservation North Carolina, will present Why Is Preservation So Important?  Also on Tuesday, March 8, Denise Ryan, a motivational speaker, author, and Certified Speaking Professional, will present Is Your Main Street Program Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?  And on Wednesday, March 9, Fay Howitt, President & CEO of Forward Cities, will present Building Healthy & Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.  The conference will include six downtown toolkit presentations, fifteen breakout sessions, and six Main Street showcase mini sessions, all scheduled on March 8-9, covering a broad spectrum of downtown revitalization topics, trends, and opportunities.
The annual N.C. Main Street Awards Ceremony will be held virtually on Wednesday, March 9, and the Main Street Champions Recognition will be held virtually on Thursday, March 10.  These two events recognize outstanding projects completed in Main Street and Small Town Main Street downtown districts throughout the state and honor individuals dedicated to making their downtowns exceptional places.  
For more information and to register, visit N.C. Main Street Conference | NC Main Street (  Early bird registration ends on February 15, 2022. 
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