Main Street Conferences Are Continuing Education

As we turn the calendar to 2024 many of us are already planning our year. We’re blocking out vacations, scheduling our signature events, and lining up key dates. For those of us in the Main Street program, an event that should be on everyone’s calendar is the Main Street NOW Conference that will be held May 6-8 in Birmingham, Alabama.

You may be saying to yourself, “Okay, conference exhibitor pushes conference attendance – heard that before.” Yes, we are a conference exhibitor, but that’s not what this blog is about. If you are familiar with our origin story, you know that we developed Maestro because we’ve been in your shoes and because we are passionate about the Main Street movement.

So why are we so passionate about the Main Street NOW Conference? NOW week is one of the best weeks of the year if you are lucky enough to be in Main Street – especially if you are a staff member.

The conference itself has some great benefits such as

  • Terrific classes taught by experts in the field – this includes a number of sessions led by local directors, board members, and volunteers. There’s something for everyone to learn.
  • Great Networking – Main Street doesn’t happen just in our communities, it’s truly a network. The NOW conference gives us the opportunity to meet people like us, and those contacts can be extremely valuable for directors – sometimes it’s knowing who to call!
  • Amazing Exhibitors – okay, we couldn’t help ourselves, we needed one selfish plug. Truthfully though, the Exhibit Hall is full of vendors of products and services that can have a huge impact on your program. Sometimes you don’t even know their products exist – so the exhibit hall is a great way to find things to take back home.
  • A new community to see – If there’s one thing that Main Streeter’s share, it’s a love of exploring new communities. The conference gives us an opportunity to see some of our country’s great cities. And if you are lucky enough to do a mobile tour you can really see some wonderful neighborhoods and surrounding communities.
  • A much deserved break – no, we don’t mean this is a vacation. Actually, it’s anything but a vacation. Most attendees are up and going for the breakfast sessions and still networking and enjoying the conversation late into the evening. However, this gives us a break from the day-to-day in our local organizations. It’s a great reminder that none of us do this job alone, and that things won’t really fall apart if we aren’t at our desk 65 hours a week.

Over the years we have heard a lot of reasons for not attending this conference. Let’s take a minute to address these.

We cannot afford it

Of all the reasons, this may be the one we hear most often, and may be one of the most challenging to overcome – but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It’s true that attending the conference can be a big expense for some organizations. Main Street has some ways to keep costs down. You can submit a session to be a speaker, which can reduce your fee and has the added benefit of giving all the other programs an opportunity to learn about things you do well. You can also ask about volunteer opportunities and even scholarships to help with registration fees.

We know that registration fees are only part of the equation – there’s flights, hotels, food, and more. So, how do you cut corners there? Talk to other programs in your area (or on The Point) about sharing hotel rooms or other ways to cut costs.

There are, unfortunately, just some costs that cannot be cut – such as food and travel. If your program doesn’t have the budget to get you there this year, look for sponsorships. Write grants to help offset costs or free up other dollars that you can utilize for travel. Most importantly, begin to budget for your team to attend in future years. Attending the conference is a great investment in the organization and will always be worthwhile.

We don’t have time / We have a big event next week

The time argument is a popular one for not attending, whether it is the NOW Conference or your State conference. We understand that Main Street can be a demanding job. It isn’t your typical 9 to 5 and most of us shoulder more burden than required because we are so passionate about the role we’re in.

Having said that, it’s important to not only make time for ourselves, but make time for things that can make us better – and that is most definitely the NOW Conference. We work with a lot of City Planners, Architects, Lawyers, Realtors, and the list goes on. All of them have required continuing education each year so that they can stay current. For Main Street practitioners, our conferences are our continuing education. They’re how we find new ideas, get answers to challenges, and ensure that we are the best version of ourselves for our program.

Making the time commitment is important. Even if you have a big event the weekend before or after – you can make the time to be away. Get your planning done early or leave the wrap-up until you return, but give yourself the ability to prioritize the conference because you will benefit greatly.

There’s nothing there for programs like mine

This one always comes as a surprise, and couldn’t be further from the truth. So, let’s dispel this myth once and for all.

It is true that these conferences are held in large cities and not in rural main streets. There are a few reasons for that, but none bigger than the need for 1200+ hotel rooms. We don’t know about your Main Street, but ours doesn’t have nearly that many rooms available. These conferences have to be in large communities that can accommodate the 1,700+ attendees.

However, the content that is shared at the conference is not just for larger communities. In fact, there are sessions tailored to rural, suburban, and urban programs. There are also a number of sessions that are applicable to anyone, regardless of your community size.

The Main Street NOW Conference is the best opportunity to come together to share and learn from other Main Streeters. There is a reason so many come back year after year – it’s worth it. Make sure you’re planning ahead, and we’ll see you in Birmingham!