Niles chosen for MEDC winter strategies pilot program

Published 7:31 am Friday, September 10, 2021

NILES — For many, wintertime brings the blues, as residents stay home hoping to avoid cold weather and snow-covered streets.

One state organization is hoping to change that for Niles residents and instead make winter a time of fun, community — and most importantly — economic development.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation recently announced that the city of Niles is one of two municipalities in the state to be chosen for a new winter strategies pilot program aimed at turning winter economic development and recreation ideas into action. The city of Mount Pleasant was also chosen to work with the MEDC on the pilot program.

According to Michelle Parkkonen, MEDC managing director of technical assistance teams, the pilot program will build off of a winter strategies guide for downtowns and business districts that was released last year. The guide provides strategies for downtowns to drive foot traffic, maximize community assets and promote economic vitality during the winter months.

“[The program] is piloting some strategic planning work in an effort to support communities that are looking to capitalize on the uniqueness of Michigan winters through partnerships and resources that we can provide through our community develop technical assistance programs,” Parkkonen said. “We wanted to offer the opportunity to develop some tailored strategies to further their winter outdoor activation.”

Parkkonen said the strategies that will be developed in the pilot program — which could include event planning, décor and more — are even important in the winter months than usual due to decreased foot and business traffic in downtowns during the winter.

“Even though we see winter in Michigan every single year, there is typically a decrease in foot traffic downtown,” she said. “To have those tailored strategies to really support looking at downtown as a destination in the winter and capitalizing on unique assets can help continue to activate the downtown during the winter months.”

The city of Niles was chosen for the pilot program primarily due to its success in implementing the Niles Outdoor Dining Experience — also known as the NODE, located at Main and Second streets, Parkkonen said.

“We’ve already seen some success there, so let’s help build upon that success with some tailored strategies,” she said. “We love to see that community partnership being activated to support these efforts. … These tailored strategies will help local businesses work smarter, not harder.”

Lisa Croteau, director of marketing and administration for Niles Main Street, said she was thrilled Niles was chosen for the MEDC pilot program.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m hoping the MEDC will bring their resources and help us help businesses work smarter not harder, and help us develop some truly executable ideas to get people to come downtown in the wintertime and visit all of the wonderful businesses we have.”

Parkkonen said she plans to meet with key players in Niles this month and hopes to have the strategies identified by the pilot program in place by the end of the holiday season.

“The focus for us on the technical assistance work is implementation,” she said. “We don’t want to go through the work of developing strategies just for it to sit on a shelf.”

Should the program prove successful in Niles and Mt. Pleasant, Parkkonen said she wants to see the winter strategies program expand to other Michigan municipalities.

“We would love to support additional communities with the winter strategies work,” she said. “I think Niles is well-positioned to be successful based on all the previous work they’ve done.”