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Creating Resilient Small City Downtowns

Many small city downtowns throughout the country continue to struggle with shuttered storefronts, deteriorating buildings, and a disconnected mix of commercial tenants. Most are still ignored by major chain store site selectors, while edge – of – town development continues to migrate outward.

Despite these challenges, there are many resilient downtowns that have achieved turnaround by recognizing and building upon their assets.  These small cities have reclaimed the importance of downtown to the broader community. Downtowns represent the central place in a community. They also offer a sense of place with history and character that cannot be replicated by cinderblock buildings on the edge of town. Finally, a vibrant downtown represents a healthy community, positioned to attract new investment and business development.

Given the challenges facing downtowns, two related projects were funded by NCRCRD.
1.      Resilient Downtowns Case Study Series (IL, MN, WI) – designed to highlight best practices regarding small-city downtown development through case studies.
2.      An Inventory of Extension Programs to Help Create Resilient Small City Downtowns (WI, IA, MN) -website created to connect Extension educators with colleagues in other states doing downtown development work.

Presented by: Bill Ryan, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Center for Community and Economic Development.
Chuck Law, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Local Government Center
Zach Kennedy, University of Illinois-Extension, Community and Economic Development

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About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and membership funding. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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