Where has downtown rural America gone? Does it still exist anywhere in this fair country? It does in Kansas, and there are numerous examples of main street development proving just that.
One prominent case, McPherson, is one of three successful Main Street development programs that will be featured at the annual Telepower Conference from Oct. 15-16 in Salina.
Telepower is a two-day conference sponsored by Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs. The conference helps rural community leaders and business owners to use information technology to promote local industry.
McPherson, a Kansas Main Street Community since 1997, was named a National Main Street Community in 2001 and again in 2003. Since 1997, more than $10 million in private and public reinvestment has taken place in McPherson.
Chris Wiens, executive director of McPherson Main Street for the past two years, has experienced much success in the area by focusing on specific market areas.
"In the last two years, we have maintained a very high occupancy rate. Over 50 percent of our ground floor spaces on Main are occupied with retail stores," she said. "McPherson is a shopping destination. We have found niche markets such as quilting, cooking and collecting, and created wonderful shops that people from Wichita, Hutchinson, Salina, Great Bend and even Kansas City and Tulsa come to again and again."
Also serving as vice president of the Kansas Downtown Development Association, Wiens views the economic development of Main Street areas across the state as vital to ensuring that a rural way of life continues to thrive.
"A community's Main Street gives a town its identity," she said. "As rural communities continue to lose their schools to consolidation, the only thing left to hold a town together is often its Main Street."
Wiens stresses the importance of Main Streets as a place for small town communities to meet, greet and carry on with community business.
"Main Street is more than just retail business," she said. "It's the community gathering place."
Rural leaders, state officials, and telecommunications business representatives will come together to learn, share ideas, network and help shape the economic futures of their communities. Topics to be covered during this year's conference include telemedicine, technology in education, Web site development, internet marketing and information technology policy.
This year's conference also features a community tour of the Smoky Hill Vineyards and Winery, as well as an optional golf outing, dinner and luncheon addresses. Sponsors include FHSU, Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, Hays Medical Center, Ruraltel/Nextech, Small Business Development Center, Information Network of Kansas, Aquila, State Independent Telephone Association and Southwestern Bell.
For more information or to register to attend Telepower '03, contact Casey Rackaway at the Docking Institute at (785) 628-5233 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the conference Web site at www.fhsu.edu/docking/telepower03.