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Deeper Dive: Pop-up Retail

By Dayna Sarver and Kristen Fish-Peterson, Redevelopment Resources

Retail shop door with an "open" sign inviting customers in.

Several years ago, the local media in a community started writing about pop-ups and the public observed a dearth of new businesses moving in. Unable to explain why this was the case, the city’s permitting process became the scapegoat. In actuality, the process was pretty short. For example, if no alterations were being made to the building, the pop-up retailer could file for their occupancy permit on Monday, the inspection was Friday, and they could be open on Saturday. Then, all the would-be entrepreneur had to do for this short-term experiment was:

  • Plan for and manage the business
  • Finding a suitable location, negotiate the lease, resolve conflict with the landlord
  • File the necessary occupancy and sign permits
  • Market the product, service, and location

Note: potential tenants also need to discover the type and size of permitted signs and where they can be located. For example, some municipalities restrict the usage of sandwich board signs for certain events or for a number of days. Furthermore, window clings may or may not require a sign permit depending on which side of the window they are installed. (True story!)

This short-term solution, however, wasn’t what the downtown community wanted or needed. On the other hand, it was the most that the municipality could offer unless the downtown community wanted to create a program themselves.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s take a step back and review the pop-up model.

Pop-up Model Basics

The Pop-Up model provides the opportunity for entrepreneurs to experiment with a product, concept, or space. Risk is limited due to the lease term length. Lease terms for a typical regional/national tenant, for instance, may be five years or more. The typical “mom and pop” tenant downtown may sign a lease for just one year. Pop-up lease terms, however, can range from 1 to 90 days. The length of a Pop-Up term depends on two things:

  • how long it will take for the shop owner to see a return on their investment
  • how long the property owner is willing to have their property tied up in a short-term lease.

Another benefit of the Pop-Up store model allows an existing business to “try on” the space for a short period of time. For example, if a retailer has a store in a neighboring municipality or outside downtown they can see what kind of success they would have with an additional location.

A Pop-Up store program, on the other hand, is typically a collaboration of various stakeholders. These include downtown property owners, commercial lenders, business development, marketing and branding experts, etc. They must all agree to work together on a shared vision of entrepreneurial growth and development, increasing the occupancy rates downtown.

Artist working on a painting while displaying craft products for sale during art walk event in Verona, WI.
Artist at work during Art Walk event in Verona, WI (2019). Photo credit: Brett Anderson Photography.

Finally, the goal is to turn short-term businesses and leases into long-term businesses and leases.  This will create vitality within the district with a mix of uses. There are a limited number of available spaces and a number of entrepreneurs interested in participating.  Implemented in a certain way, it can almost have a “Business Plan Challenge” feel to it. 

Pop-up Program Spotlight

Participating in the program connects entrepreneurs with local business development experts and mentors to help their business ideas be successful.  The program would also help market the Pop-Up and may provide signage consistent with other Pop-Up locations. Some programs may cover the occupancy permit fee. Additionally, the program manager negotiates a lease agreement for the specified program term.

Brand Logo for Viroqua Chamber Main Street Pop-up Program.
The Viroqua Chamber Main Street in Viroqua, WI created a consistent branding and marketing strategy for promoting selected businesses in their pop-up program.

One example is from the Viroqua Chamber Main Street in Viroqua, WI. They created their own pop-up store marketing, promotion brand, and strategy. Signs were installed and Facebook blasts promoted each new store. Additionally, the Chamber Main Street also negotiated the lease agreements eliminating several stressors for the business.

Pop-up Store Program as Economic Gardening

From an economic gardening perspective, eliminating potential obstacles (leases, insurance, permits) would help cultivate potential longer-term tenants and improve downtown vitality. Participating property owners may be willing to offer free or reduced lease rates or terms to attract a tenant, or the program may subsidize the rental rate through donations to the program. 

Furthermore, while the entrepreneur must still budget for rent, utilities, insurance, point of sale system, furnishings/decorations, supplies, they will be able to capitalize on its success. Together with a solid business plan and real-time data, they may be able to get the financing they need from a local lender to expand their business. 

Additional benefits to the program include opportunities for the other entrepreneurs that are not selected for the Pop-up location, such as:

  • the opportunity to develop their business plan. Then, they then can take their plan to a financial institution to discuss possible financing. 
  • a new connection with potential sites in other parts of the community. 

Creating the Right Team for the Program

Assembling a multi-disciplinary team with clear expectations of their roles and responsibilities is essential for the success of the program. One model, noted above, is a collaboration between Main Street staff and municipal economic development staff members. Consider who will finance, champion, and manage the program or how those responsibilities will be shared between multiple agencies.  Then, outline the program goals and objectives.

Next, it is time to bring in the rest of the team. Think of any service a startup retailer would need that will make the process easier, especially with a potentially temporary space. Having access to people with answers may mean all the difference to the success of that business, and in turn, the entire program. This may include:

  • A marketing guru
  • Real estate broker,
  • Selected landlords
  • An accountant
  • Attorney
  • City Inspections Dept.
  • Your favorite contractor for temporary buildouts
  • Banking partners
  • Possibly a sign company and others.

Under any circumstances, the entrepreneur must cultivate their own success, but having a team of experienced professionals available to provide technical assistance improves the odds of success.


Again, the Pop-Up concept is more about the entrepreneur’s ability to experiment with limited risk due to the term length. They still have all the same responsibilities of starting and managing a business, which requires time and resources to plan and coordinate.  As a part of a larger set of economic development tools, the business development resources in this type of program enhance the opportunity for long-term change to occur. It is the creation of an entirely new program, however, which requires coordination of the right resources:

  • The right team
  • Identification of program goals and objectives
  • Potential funding sources for longevity
  • The creation of a brand identity and marketing of that brand throughout the project term.

In the absence of creating an entire formal program, coordination with property owners can facilitate the concept of the Pop-Up in a one-off fashion. Mainstreet or municipal economic development staff who have relationships with property owners can broker deals between startup retailers and landlords of vacant space and get tenants placed in a storefront on a short-term lease. The accommodating landlord will see the value in this. Additionally, Main Street staff, Chamber, or municipal economic development staff, can also coordinate technical assistance in a one-off fashion.

Related Posts:


Michael Forsyth and Lori E. Alan have written a report about the successful implementation of Pop-Up programs in other parts of the country, “Pop-up Program Development: Lessons Learned and Best Practices in Retail Evolution.” Michael is the program manager for REVOLVE which began in 2012 and within its first year 17 sites were activated, 11 full-time businesses started, and they executed 36 temporary projects. 

Pop-Up Shops 101: Everything You Need to Know to Try Temporary Retail

Pop-Up Retail: Not Just For Start-Ups, And Other Learnings From Its Evolution by Matthew Wagner, Ph.D., Vice President of Revitalization Programs, National Main Street Center

Adaptable Downtown

Main Street in downtown Logan, Utah by Michael Hart.

Dayna Sarver, Development Specialist, Redevelopment Resources

Indianola, IA, is known for the National Balloon Classic, Simpson College, and the seat of county government. Its small-town charm and proximity to the airport frequently attracted Presidential candidates during the Iowa caucuses. When I was growing up there in the 1980s, Indianola also boasted of another gem – a JCPenney’s downtown. That is until they announced they were closing. I distinctly remember my mother dragging me on an emergency shopping trip to stock up on pantyhose. 

Regional malls and transportation corridors built to avoid city centers attracted many downtown tenants like our beloved JCPenney’s away from downtown in the 1970s and 1980s. But, after a period of decline, evidence suggests that many metro downtowns across the country were thriving. That is, until last March when the winds of change shifted. Indeed, a dark cloud is hovering over the central city[1]. However, I believe we are witnessing the micro-evolution of downtown yet again. Adaptability seems to be the name of the game for businesses and local governments.

Why Downtowns Must Be Adaptable

First, employment centers in downtowns facilitate talent attraction, support collaboration, reduce time spent traveling to customers and business partners, and can help companies improve their triple bottom line. In fact, before 2020 talent attraction was the topic of the day and Millennials are now the largest generational segment of the American workforce.[2] This segment of the population tends to prefer mixed-use urban “live, work, play” environments at a higher rate than other generations. Responsible corporate practices are also part of the talent attraction scheme as “Millennials are more likely to care about corporate social responsibility than previous generations, and consider this a determining factor in choosing where to work.”[3]

Second, for residents and visitors “Downtowns concentrate assets, giving locals and those living further away access to densities of jobs, shopping, restaurants, government services, entertainment venues, and more.”[4] Downtowns may be suffering, but they’re not dead and for good reasons.

Adaptable Office Space

Employees working from home have decreased daytime headcounts in downtown offices. Previously averse to the idea of allowing their employees to work from home, employers have become adaptable and have discovered that they can be productive in their home offices. However, productivity isn’t always a company’s top priority. Innovation, collaboration, networking, and mentoring are easier to cultivate in-person. Therefore, the square footage a company leases will need to be based on peak employee headcount rather than average employee headcount. Landlords may need to alter their building footprint to create more flexible amenities for those few times a year that a business would need to occupy spaces for peak employee occupancy.[5]

An adaptable downtown space design will also likely need to allow for touchless entry and exit. For example, traffic flow in and out of communal spaces will limit entering and exiting through the same doorway. Work stations will be spaced to allow for social distancing. Additionally, the use of surfaces and materials that are easily cleaned may need to change. In fact, these changes may become indicators of the post-COVID design era similar to the design characteristics of previous decades like the Le Corbusier concrete heavy facades of the 1960s.[6]

Adaptable Hospitality & Retail

The methods of providing services to guests of hotels, restaurants, and retailers must also be adaptable. For example, stores and restaurants that previously did not offer pick-up, delivery, or online ordering have implemented these services. The impact of these adaptations has been substantial. For instance, tourism dropped nationally by as much as 70% year-over-year in April and rebounded to -5.1% Labor Day weekend.[7] According to a recent report by Dr. Steven Deller, “Firms that have found it more difficult to adapt have been more negatively impacted than those that have adapted.[8]

Certainly, I experienced this first-hand on a trip with my family last month. As a family of six, we attempt to find hotels near our destination that provide complimentary breakfast. We discovered that rather than the buffet-style breakfast, we would be provided with a brown bag breakfast. Our goodie bags included fruit, pastry, and yogurt. My kids ended up trading their items like candy at Halloween. This may be a temporary service change, but it provided this consumer with the confidence to book another night.

Adaptable Public Space & Transportation

In a blog post my colleague Marisa Mutty posted last May she states, “. . . local governments should proactively (and collaboratively with community business leaders) look at their zoning codes and other rules to determine where they can make temporary or permanent adjustments to accommodate more creative use of space. Local leaders and economic developers should also find ways to streamline the permitting process and even waive or cover fees if possible.[9]” Since then, many communities have permitted restaurants to expand their outdoor dining space to accommodate the social distancing of their patrons. For example, the City of Madison’s Economic Development and Planning Departments have created a Streatery Program. The program allows for restaurants in the city to use outdoor spaces such as private parking lots, public sidewalks, and street parking spaces as outdoor dining spaces.

Mass transportation has been impacted in many ways as well. For the better in some cases for the health of drivers and patrons. The Madison Metro has installed plastic shields to protect bus drivers. I wouldn’t be surprised to find hand sanitizer conveniently located next to the ticket machine in the coming months either. The decrease in ridership and increased costs of facility and vehicle cleaning is hitting transportation budgets hard though. Bus stop schedules may be temporarily adjusted accordingly.[10]

Rural and Suburban Downtowns

The data is less clear about how they have faired over the last several decades. Anecdotally, I can attest to the success of a few that have found their own niche market and appear to be doing quite well. The ones that I can think of off the top of my head have other means of capturing a particular market- an institute of higher education, a haven for artists, or a wealth of natural amenities that attract a steady flow of visitors. The ability to leverage one or more assets is vital.


As the heart of the community, downtowns provide a density of assets including jobs, goods & services, restaurants, and entertainment options. They’ve been evolving for decades due to other market forces and will continue to do so post-COVID-19. Floor-plans, space design, and accessibility to your favorite bus driver are likely here to stay. Changes in the way communities have been experimenting with public spaces like sidewalks and parking spaces may be more or less sticky. But downtowns are not going away. Again, the name of the game is agility.

[1] Renn, A. M. (2020, June 15). The Cloud over the Future of America’s Downtowns. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

[2] Fry, R. (2015, May 11). “Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force.” Pew Research Center. Retrieved May 11, 2015 at

[3] Anderson, G. (2015). Core Values: Why American Companies are Moving Downtown. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from

[4] Tomer, Adie and Lara Fishbane. (2020). Big city downtowns are booming, but can their momentum outlast the coronavirus? Retrieved September 28, 2020, from:

[5] Levy, S. (2020, August 14). The Weekly Take Flex Lives: Reinventing Flexible Offices Amid Disruption. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

[6] Romano, E., & Loth, H. T. (2020, September 9). Design with Lasting Impact: Considerations for the Resilient Workplace. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

[7] Barnes, T. E., & Holmberg, L. (2020, September 25). COVID-19 Travel Industry Research. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

[8] Deller, S. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on the Wisconsin Economy. WIndicators, Volume 3, Number 4. Pg. 9. Retrieved from:

[9] Mutty, M. (2020). What small businesses need now from local government, economic development organizations, and each other. [Blog Post] Retrieved from:

[10] Inc., EBP US. (2020). The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Public Transit Funding Needs in the U.S. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

Housing Market Study: Who Should Pay For It?

Birdseye image of a neighborhood sprawling along a river. As communities grow, housing market studies can help identify the type and placement of housing growth.

by Kristen Fish-Peterson, Principal & CEO, Redevelopment Resources

Nearly every community Redevelopment Resources has interacted with over the past handful of years talks about the housing market. Demand for single-family homes is high due to low interest rates and attractive to first-time buyers. That is, if they can find an available home an avoid a bidding war. Some communities need housing at the executive level, some at the other end of the spectrum. Some have a serious need for housing for seasonal workers, even amid a pandemic. Most need housing for the middle of the pack, the workforce.   

Housing has now become an economic development issue (in addition to being a community development issue). So who should pay for the housing study? Should the developer (private sector) pay for it? Or should the municipality/development authority/EDO pay for it?

The Private Sector Housing Market Study

Oftentimes, lending institutions require a developer to have a current market study completed. Housing Market Assessments are also required when tax credits are being used as a part of the funding. For specific developments, the developer will have to supply the study. However, that study is the property of the developer and will only analyze what the developer requests it to analyze.  If the developer presents their housing study to request an incentive, the municipality may not to completely trust the results. However, reasonable support for an incentive exists if the results of the developer’s housing study are consistent with local beliefs.

The Public Sector

There are a host of reasons for the public sector to own their own housing market study. The municipality which commissions a housing market assessment will understand the demand and supply issues. Municipal staff will be able to address those issues through planning, zoning, developer attraction and creation of incentives programs. A housing study serves as a marketing tool for a community focused on meeting the housing needs of the community.

Furthermore, include vulnerable populations within the assessment. Understanding housing issues for each of these populations enables Social service organizations to address meeting their specific needs. Vulnerable populations include the homeless, disabled, victims of domestic abuse, etc.

A colleague pointed out their municipality updates its housing assessment every two years so they can:

  • understand the market and
  • compare requests for incentives against realities in the market

A developer’s bank will likely require them to provide a current and tailored study for the proposed project. However, a community-owned market study is a great marketing tool, attracting developers to the projects needed by the community’s residents.

Finally, a current housing market study enables local stakeholders in the community to provide valuable insight to housing market challenges. The public and private sector can then help interested parties understand where focus should be placed to address such challenges.

Need Help?

If your community finds itself in a similar circumstance, have you quantified the need? Have you qualified the need?  Are employers stating that they can’t hire the right people or enough people because of a shortage of housing? Are local realtors stating they cannot meet housing demand with low inventories and record low “days on the market” statistics? Redevelopment Resources offers housing market studies and assessments for the private sector and the public sector. Our perspective with significant experience in both economic development and community development pairs well with our real estate experience. We’ve developed unique and specific recommendations, custom designed for our clients’ specific needs. Let us help you with your housing development challenges.

Workforce Gender Equity & Diversity

Diverse workforce meeting with woman at front of board room using post-it notes.

By Dayna Sarver, Redevelopment Resources


Municipalities are struggling to attract new workforce talent as the existing institutional knowledge is nearing retirement. It may be even more difficult if there is a lack of diversity on their existing staff to mentor young professionals. Additionally, municipalities, banks, real estate developers, utilities, etc. all have to work together for a development project to come to fruition. This emphasizes the importance of being aware of how our actions and words impact our working relationships. Finally, as Economic Development professionals workforce talent retention and attraction may once again become a hot topic post-COVID-19. As part of the services practitioners provide to local firms, encouraging them to look at the diversity of their workforce may become increasingly important to the longevity of the firm.

As a white, married, heterosexual woman, I recognize that my experience in a male-dominated industry is narrow compared to others from different racial groups, gender identities, and abilities who experience similar and worse challenges/behaviors/discrimination. Based on what experience I do have, organizations looking to further their workforce talent attraction and retention goals should pluck the following low-hanging fruit:

  1. Achieve personal and organizational awareness
  2. Offer mentorship
  3. Create a culture of healthy dialog
  4. Compare compensation within the commuter-shed
  5. Collaborate on talent attraction efforts

Achieve personal awareness

I remember my first professional meeting with a real estate developer from Chicago.  He was 45 minutes late and frazzled.  I asked him if I could get him something to drink before we sat down.  He looked me up and down and asked for coffee. He didn’t seem to need any additional caffeine, but I complied. When I brought the coffee back to him, he asked me to leave the conference room so he could make a phone call while he waited for my boss, a man, to return from closing a deal. I was irked that he seemed to think that I was not in the position to be discussing potential development plans, but I had only been at the job for two weeks and didn’t want to blow it. So, yet again, I complied. 

Fortunately, supportive male co-workers encouraged me to not spend any more time with him. They were as offended as I was. Unfortunately, for him and other women he meets, I lacked the courage to confront him about his behavior assuming that in doing so, he would change.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • What assumptions do I make when meeting with someone for the first time that may be erroneous?
  • How do I respond when confronted with new information that challenges my previous assumptions?
  • Do I validate or dismiss grievances shared by coworkers?
  • Am I giving credit where credit is due? E.g. if a team member proposes a brilliant idea, am I taking credit for it or am I affirming their creativity?
  • Do I speak up when dominant voices speak over, interrupt, disrespect or make insensitive comments about non-dominate social groups?
  • Are we addressing both covert and overt forms of discrimination when they happen by taking immediate action?

Achieve organizational awareness

My next meeting was with the committee that oversaw the revolving loan fund for the downtown. I was the only woman at the table surrounded by men with salt and pepper hair. Some had more salt than pepper. At the time, I had no idea how commercial lending worked or what the underwriting criteria were. I was also an outsider among colleagues and friends, some who had worked together for decades.  Given my previous experience, one could imagine my apprehension to make a proposal to disburse limited funds. Stress sweat is a real thing! These men, however, warmly welcomed me and eagerly shared their knowledge of the industry.

Questions for your organization to consider:

  • How are we helping our existing workforce talent reach their personal and professional goals?
  • How is institutional knowledge disbursed throughout our organization?
  • Does our organization have a culture of affirmation or critique? e.g. praise for how they handled a tough customer vs. what mistakes were made.
  • Have potential leaders been identified and how are we developing them?

Offer mentorship

In addition to professional development, time spent mentoring young professionals is exceedingly valuable.  In one organization I was a part of, this occurred organically post a public meeting, development proposal, etc. The senior managers would loiter in cube land or perch themselves on a file cabinet to debrief the meeting. They shared their institutional knowledge, past experiences, best practices and loads of encouragement. Mentor relationships like this does not happen organically in all organizations. Furthermore, in organizations where it does happen organically, that may not be the case for women and racial minorities. Additionally, both gender and racial diversity within the management team may provide the opportunity for staff to effectively mentor younger/new staff who see themselves reflected in management and executive positions.

One manager also provided introductions at networking events with other professionals which expanded my professional mentoring net. (One such contact helped facilitate my current employment with Redevelopment Resources.) His accolades during the introductions, while embarrassing for a Midwesterner, affirmed my credibility to the new contact. Hearing my manager affirm my work publicly as well as in the office, strengthened my confidence and work-place satisfaction.

Healthy Dialog:

Within the Organization

A work-place culture that can discuss hard topics, like equity, together with mentorship strengthens talented voices. Within the first six months of working for a municipality, my coworkers and I were required to participate in an annual diversity training.  (The training is required as part of the municipality’s insurance agreement with the carrier.) Rather than sitting in rows with someone lecturing to us, the facilitator arranged the chairs in a circle for a more discussion-based approach.  There were some hard conversations that took place, but given proper ground-rules, the response was positive and rewarded honest dialog that continued after the training. Conversely, I participated in a different organization that was also required to attend the same training. My perception of the results of that training were that it was simply an exercise to fulfill an annual requirement, but no further meaningful dialog occurred. 

Furthermore, it also helped me to develop friendships with other women in male-dominated departments (like the planning, public works and transportation departments).  More experienced in navigating gender diversity in the workplace, they became my support group. We met regularly for lunch and the conversation primarily revolved around less intense topics of family and pets. Since we had spent considerable amounts of time together this paved the way for those challenging work-place conversations no one is immune to.

Within the Community

Communities should engage stakeholders in a dialog that strategically identifies and advances diversity and inclusion goals of the organization or community.  Ensure that there are multiple disciplines and representatives of various non-dominant social groups at the table with decision-making authority. Your community or organization may want to hire an experienced facilitator to help set boundaries and guide the conversation. While there are no “stupid” questions, there can be awkward and insensitive ones. Experienced facilitators can extract the intention of the question being asked and teach the group why what they said can have a negative impact on the very issues they’re discussing.”

Workforce Compensation

Compare compensation within the commuter-shed

So, your organization is already progressing with difficult conversations, developing initiatives and investing in the existing workforce, but you’re still having a difficult time attracting talent. It may be time to examine the compensation of other firms within an hour commute.  The talent pool isn’t as mobile as one might assume for a number of reasons.  For example, parents of middle school and high school students may not want to pull their kids out of the school district that they’ve developed roots in, a family member needs more immediate access to specialized medical clinics, or the location of a partner’s employer may limit mobility options.

Some municipal employers base their compensation rates on similar sized communities within the state, however, it may be more prudent for these municipalities to look at similar sized communities within their region.  If the talent isn’t going to change their residency, they will shop around for the highest bidder within a desired commute. 

Compare compensation within the Organization

Organizations should also review their payrolls for wage equity for non-dominant social groups. Since 2015, Salesforce has invested $10.3 million to ensure pay equity. Companies with high levels of racial diversity (25% or more) have been found to have mean revenues that were nearly 15.5 times higher than those with low levels of racial diversity (less than 10%). (Check out last month’s blog.)[1]  That the same study found that workforce’s with high levels of gender diversity (45% or more) have been found to have mean revenues that were over 14 times higher than those with low levels of gender diversity (less than 20%).[2]  Some questions to prepare for a pay equity analysis include the following:

  • Do wage gaps exist that cannot be explained by education and experience?
  • Are there any differences in opportunities for advancement?

For more information on conducting a pay equity analysis check out PayScale.

Collaborate on workforce talent attraction efforts

Economic Development professionals need to also conduct their business retention and expansion visits with the human resources directors of local firms to strategize creative methods of addressing the workforce talent attraction and retention issues. By discussing their labor force needs, creative solutions can be developed. For example, there may be firms that furlough their labor force with compatible skills during alternating times of the year. It may be advantageous for these firms to work together to share the same labor pool. 

Additionally, by working with regional employers, municipalities, utilities and workforce development boards, job opportunities and the communities within which they are located can be marketed in a centralized location. As previously pointed out, prospective employees have multiple needs that will be factored into their decision-making process. These talented individuals will be conducting internet searches as part of their research which will likely include real estate availability, cost of living, school systems, community organizations, recreational opportunities, etc. One example of this is  This jobs portal provides opportunities for visitors to find job postings, upload the resume of an accompanying spouse, arrange a customized tour of the community, and much more.


Lessons I’ve learned in assisting local firms in their efforts to attract and retain diverse talent include encouraging workplace cultures in which consistent, healthy dialog and mentorship are a part of the organizational fabric; regional approaches to comparing compensation rates; and collaborating with other economic development organizations to attract talent. This list is by no means comprehensive and is merely a personal reflection from the field meant to inspire further dialog and creativity.

[1] Herring, Cedric. Is Diversity Still a Good Thing?. 82 American Sociological Review. 868, 871

[2] Carter, Jennifer, et al. (2019). Economics of Diversity. Intellectual Property Owner’s Assocation. Pg. 2. Retrieved from:

The Importance of the Community Welcome Mat

Dayna Sarver, Development Specialist


The #1 challenge local employers shared with me before COVID-19 was their ability to attract and retain talent with the skills needed to grow the business. In fact, the private sector is keenly aware of the need for diverse talent. Research has shown that there is a positive correlation between gender/racial diversity and business performance.[1] Companies with high levels of racial diversity had average revenues that were nearly 15.5 times higher than those with low levels of racial diversity.[2] This is because diverse talent provides a broader understanding of customer needs and desires. As a result, innovation increases, the quality of decision making improves, employee satisfaction improves, and the company’s global image improves. (Not to mention that it is the socially responsible thing to do.)

Other challenges employers shared related to talent attraction and retention included access to public transportation and affordable housing. Employers are looking for ways to capture all of the available workforce and housing that supports them.  This is not simply an urban or suburban problem.  In fact, COVID-19 has created a market disruption that may accelerate growth in more rural areas which will soon need to be addressing these issues as well.

A self-evaluation of how well communities are welcoming the varieties of talent that their businesses are trying to attract would be beneficial.  From our perspective, evaluating housing affordability, transportation access, and the presence of a forum for community dialog is the low hanging fruit for a community to put out the welcome mat.

Housing Affordability

Affordable Housing Definitions & Components

If “the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than thirty percent (30%) of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities,” a housing unit is affordable. Overall affordability analyzes the housing stock within a municipality and whether the median household can afford a median‐priced unit.

There are two components to “affordable housing”:

  • Subsidized housing is when a government program, such as the housing tax credit program, reduces the rent/price, or owned by a non-profit or government agency. There are typically some restrictions on the eligibility of the tenant.
  • “Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing” (NOAH) are older, smaller, or lower quality dwelling units that are affordable without subsidies.

Housing Programs

Housing Tax Credit developments must remain affordable for a 30-year period. Additionally, these developments must also meet one of two thresholds:

  • At least 20% of all units in a development must be reserved for households at or below 50% of area median income (AMI), OR
  • At least 40% of all units must be reserved for households at or below 60% of AMI.[3]


Housing affordability is not only a function of the current housing supply, but also housing demand. Housing demand is a function of income, employment and household growth within a region due to employee commuting patterns. Wisconsin cities and villages with populations of 10,000 or more are required to prepare an annual Housing Affordability Report on the city or village’s implementation of and possible improvements to the housing element in the comprehensive plan. While this report is currently required for communities of a certain size, COVID-19 has created a market disruption that may accelerate growth in more rural areas. It could be valuable for communities of any size to evaluate their current housing stock with forecasted housing demand for all income levels.

Key stakeholders within a region may benefit from having an annual summit to discuss housing topics. Possible discussion topics include: obstacles to developing affordable housing, trends in consumer preferences, range of housing choices, consumer feedback, and the community’s ability to meet this forecasted housing demand.


Missing Middle housing is a range of house-scale buildings with multiple units that fit within the context of the neighborhood, are walkable to/from amenities, and have access to public transportation. Missing middle could be defined as “attached townhouses, duplexes, triplexes or quads, and cottage clusters.”

Here are few ideas to implement missing middle housing:

  1. Allow for more density in residential subdivisions with smaller lot sizes that still meet the public safety setback requirements.
  2. Allow “missing middle” housing types in at least one, if not many, residential zoning district as a permitted use by-right.
  3. Incentivize workforce housing development by providing density bonuses for workforce housing projects.

Transportation Access

Housing costs are only one part of the affordable living equation. Households incur varying amounts of transportation costs depending on where they live, work, and play. Location efficient neighborhoods with lower transportation costs tend to be denser, mixed-use neighborhoods with convenient access to jobs, services, transit and amenities. The H+T Index offers an expanded view of affordability. It combines housing and transportation costs. Therefore, the index benchmark of affordability is no more than 45% of household income. The key takeaway is that employment centers and neighborhoods should be developed as location-efficient places.

An evaluation of the location of a potential workforce, their transportation needs, and the hours of operation within industry employment clusters is recommended. It will help facilitate conversations and develop implementation strategies with key stakeholders.


  • Analyze the costs and benefits of creating or extending public transportation services.
  • Create or contract for a vanpool service. Vanpools are groups of 8 to 15 commuters sharing their ride to work in a passenger van. The van is owned, insured and serviced by a public or private entity. Passengers share operating costs by paying a fare.[4] Alternatively, participation in the program may be incentivized by their employer. The costs of the program may be negotiated between the private and public sector.

Welcome Committee

A committee with stakeholders from multiple disciplines and representatives of various protected classes would provide a forum for a continual dialog regarding the issues of the day, housing development needs, and any challenges certain communities face. This committee may develop metrics for strategically evaluating progress, provide input for programs and policies to the governing board, and educate constituents about the collective decision-making process. The City of Elk Grove in California and City of Warrensburg, MO are a couple of examples of communities with such committees.

Roles & Goals

Such a committee should have a specific role and set of goals for the community. Example roles and goals a committee could pursue include:

  • Educating the public about community initiatives
  • Collaborative decision making and/or mediator for community issues that present competing priorities
  • Act as an organizing body or collaborator for various efforts throughout the community
  • Hold municipality/community accountable to its goals


Collaborating with the school district to communicate actions, measures, and needs within the community is one example of partnering with an outside entity. The school district is an excellent starting point and a good resource in understanding the various values represented by the student body and the perception of the schools in your community are an important factor in attracting talent. Some communities host events celebrating their community’s heritage. Alternatively, other communities invite various ethnic groups to showcase their cultures either all together in a multicultural showcase or as separate events. These types of events provide an opportunity for an open dialog within a community about the culture’s history, influence, and present issues. It facilitates common understanding and builds trust.

Additionally, some communities have opened the conversation by inviting community members to ask the questions they are perhaps afraid to voice, issued public statements of community inclusion and events to promote community healing.  One such example, is the City of Sun Prairie, WI.  


COVID-19 has created a market disruption. Therefore, should the remote work trend stick, rural communities may see an increased interest of housing developers and consumers looking for less congested, welcoming live-work options. As community economic developers, we believe that all communities would benefit from evaluating their “welcome mat.” This evaluation should include the following:

  • Assessing housing affordability for a variety of income levels and consumer preferences
  • Transportation access for those units,
  • The presence of a forum for community dialog.


[1] Note: Correlation means that two things are related, however, it is unclear whether one causes the other.

[2] Herring, Cedric. Is Diversity Still a Good Thing?. 82 American Sociological Review. Pgs. 868, 871

[3] WHEDA. Housing Tax Credits. (n.d.) Retrieved from:

[4] The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one example of a vanpool program:

What small businesses need now from local government, economic development organizations, and each other.

Marisa Mutty, Lead Planner and Development Specialist

Much has been written about financial aid and funding options for small businesses during the pandemic. Most local government and economic development entities have done their best to communicate the various options to local businesses. In some cases municipalities have provided their own funding where possible.

This next phase of recovery from the pandemic will include various levels of reopening businesses as states loosen stay-at-home orders. People will make individual decisions about how and when they return to their day-to-day lives. Beyond this immediate next step, we may see waves of tighter and looser restrictions. There may be recommendations over the next several months, as COVID-19 cases spike, dip, and move around the country in patterns yet to be fully understood.

Continue reading “What small businesses need now from local government, economic development organizations, and each other.”

Personal Bubble in Public Spaces?

Dayna Sarver, Development Specialist

As restrictions on social interactions are lifted and our personal bubbles are no less than six feet apart rather than the previous two to three feet, how will our physical spaces be impacted?  Undoubtedly, there will be implications felt in every sector: office spaces, concert venues, arenas, dressing rooms, theme parks, college campuses, the DMV, the Post Office, town hall, and others.  Well, maybe not town hall. No one shows up to those anyway. But will there be a more permanent shift of public meetings to online platforms? Many communities have transitioned in this direction in the interim.  (As a former municipal employee, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to those spaces.)

The point is that real estate development, urban planning and employee retention are not likely to return to the pre-COVID era.  This article explores questions to consider as practitioners prepare for the new normal.

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What can you do? Local ED professional response to COVID-19

Economic and Community Development professionals are experts at catching curve balls.  We do it all the time.  Although many of us have not seen a curve ball like COVID-19, there are specific things we can do to support the businesses in our community amidst this major curve ball none of us imagined.

While we continue to realize the far-reaching effects of the virus and its implications on the economy (I’m sure we cannot even fathom the places this will go), there are things we can do. Read on for a list!


First:  Think.  Think about how we can help small and large businesses in our respective community.  What might they need? Where will hidden challenges lie? Put yourself in their shoes and think about this.

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Top Five Things Every Newly Elected Official Should Know About Redevelopment

Property doesn’t become blighted overnight.

Years of neglect and lack of upkeep yield blighted properties.  Code enforcement, if implemented, works to help in some instances.  But if the community hasn’t been consistently enforcing building codes and maintaining standards, it will be an uphill battle.  No one wants to see play that out on the front page of the newspaper.  If your community is not diligent at enforcing existing building codes, it’s never too late to start.


A carrot and stick approach to code enforcement works better than a stick alone.

Holding property owners accountable for the condition of their property by using the heavy hand of code enforcement alone may not be well-received.  This is especially true if a blind eye has been turned to deteriorating conditions.  It might be best to start with a property owner education seminar or series of public relations outreach efforts. If your city is proactive on informing property owners about your (renewed) desire to enforce building codes, some owners may proactively address their issues.  At least then you can say they were informed.


Public sector investments in property rehabilitation is often required

For whatever reason a person comes into ownership of a property, they may not have the means to keep it up or make significant repairs.  Undertaking transformative rehabilitation is often the most expensive of property investment adventures.  What could appear to be a simple rehab project often uncovers deeper issues.  One can find aging infrastructure, structural issues, and problems lurking under surfaces.  Because significant improvements to existing buildings can be so expensive, these projects often need public sector support.  Investments made in a community’s architectural treasures will reap benefits for the long term.  And, as redevelopment occurs, it tends to go viral.  Once one property owner starts investing in a property, others decide to make improvements and the energy spreads to even more buildings.  We’ve seen the first few projects in a redevelopment area require more public investment but as the flywheel begins to spin, the private sector takes the wheel and public sector support diminishes.

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When Local Protectionism Makes the Council

Recently, business retention was invoked as one reason to turn down zoning approval of a new business in a small community. Sure, there were two existing businesses in the same general retail category in the community already.  But I couldn’t help but ask myself if City Council and Village Board members the best people to choose economic winners and losers. When does business retention become local protectionism, and is that a problem here?

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Sign of for Redevelopment Resources Updates