by Terry Rogers
Sara Pletcher, President of Downtown Milford, Inc., said that the DMI Board approved possibly the largest budget in organization history in October in preparation for 2019. Pletcher believes it is an indicator that the organization is growing. One potential project, the Vinyard Shipyard, added $56,000 to the organization’s budget in order to conduct a feasibility study.
“The feasibility study is being fundraised from local governments and community members, so it won’t be a hit to DMI’s bottom line, but it is a rather daunting budget to commit to,” Pletcher said. “All that said, I think it’s a great indicator our organization is growing and willing to take some risk on long-term projects like the Shipyard, as well as the community’s support of our endeavors. We’re also launching a ‘Big Ask’ campaign that will allow sponsors to choose how they’d like to support DMI once a year, rather than at each event. So, we’re making changes that will increase the overall economic health of the organization.”
In an effort to further grow the downtown area, DMI’s Economic Vitality Committee has begun reviewing its business recruitment plan to take a proactive approach to attracting new businesses in 2019. According to Executive Director Murrie Zlotziver, the Economic Vitality Committee members have personally approached existing businesses about expanding operations to Milford or reached out to businesses that come to their attention through the City of Milford or the Entrepreneur Network.
“The DMI Board has identified specific types and categories of businesses that would be appropriate for Milford and its residents,” Zlotziver said. “Now, DMI will be researching what makes these types of businesses successful both in a general sense but also looking at specific shops. This may be what makes a book shop successful or an art supply store. These businesses may be local, regional, in or even outside of Delaware. Once identified, these businesses would be invited to consider Milford as a place to do business. It’s been said for quite some time that Milford is on the verge or is already the next happening town in Delaware.”
DMI feels they are beyond the verge with great things happening to attract new businesses to the downtown area. These include the new Bathealth Hospital and Nationwide Healthcare Services which are major long-term investments in the community that will bring new employees and residents to Milford.
“Anytime new jobs are created in the area, the economy is going to see a boost,” Pletcher said. “We’re going to see an influx of over 600 jobs come to Milford in the next few years. We’re leveraging that benefit by starting conversations now with both organizations to ensure they’re selling Milford as their employee’s Home Town, using locally owned businesses for their in-house services where possible and providing their key decision makers with the necessary information. We want to see as many of these new young professionals in our Downtown shops, restaurants, at the Farmers Market, the ice cream shop, etc., and that starts with early education to let them know what we have to offer. We’re also working with the City to make sure our materials, like our new 2019 Events flyer, are in new resident packets. Both projects will be great for Milford if we’re working together.”
DMI’s efforts are clearly paying off as the organization received two important awards in 2018. Kent County Tourism named the town the 2018 Quaint Village of the Year. Pletcher explained that the town won the award because Kent County visitors enjoy coming to Milford for the thriving art scene and the numerous events held in the City. Milford is also a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts and visitors enjoy frequenting great restaurants and pubs like Mispillion River Brewing and EasySpeak Spirits. Pletcher pointed out that, during a Familiarization Tour in June, Milford was the overwhelming response when the attendees were asked what was the favorite part of the trip. Milford was also awarded the 2018 Best New Event Award by Southern Delaware Tourism for the Inaugural Ladybug Festival which was held in September.
“The Festival is the largest celebration of women in music and is a vehicle to promote economic development,” Pletcher said. “Over 40 female artists and female-led bands performed in 15 different venues or shops and a main outdoor stage. The festival brought close to 3,000 visitors to Downtown Milford. It is estimated that over half were first-time visitors to the City, coming from as far away as Norway as well as surrounding states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia along with the Metropolitan areas of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.”
DMI is proud of the good relationship they have with the City of Milford, working closely with Rob Pierce in the Planning Department as well as Eric Norenberg, City Manager. They sit down to discuss how DMI and the City can partner to “roll out the red carpet” for new businesses. The Downtown Development District and DMI’s business loan and grant programs are packages that the organization is promoting to encourage new business in the downtown area. Pletcher explained that DMI created a new business brochure in 2018 that highlights those programs.
“One area that could aid in business growth and one we have discussed with the City is an ordinance or code change that requires building owners and/or tenants in the Downtown area to open a viable business rather than have a vacant building,” Pletcher said.
Zlotvizer described several programs available through DMI that encourage businesses to promote the downtown area.
“Our Design Committee has a façade grant program and a matching five-gallon paint program available to local businesses,” Zlotvizer said. “We also enhance the downtown shopping experience with Milford in Bloom and the new Sail Banner Project. In addition, we just introduced our ‘3rd Thursday, Shop Early, Shop Late, Shop Local’ button where 18 shops in downtown are offering 15 percent discounts to shoppers every Third Thursday throughout the year to encourage shoppers to shop small. The Riverwalk Farmers Market also brings additional shoppers to town.”
Other events, including the Annual Holiday Stroll, Santa House, Shop Small Saturday, Bug & Bud Festival as well as what will now be the Annual Ladybug Festival will continue to attract visitors downtown. The St. Patrick’s Day Weekend event will not only include the Annual Pub Crawl but also an Irish Music & Dance Concert. In August, a Jazz & Film Noir Festival is planned as well.
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