EEDC: This past week, EEDC held its annual Board retreat. Can you discuss some of the highlights?
Tracy Ward (TW): The EEDC Board Retreat was particularly important this year because we have moved from a small organization to one with multiple employees and a much greater responsibility to the community. At the request of the Town of Easton, the inclusion of a Downtown focus made us into an economic development corporation that is working on Easton in a more comprehensive way.
When an organization goes through growth, there’s a great deal of internal preparation that must be done to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support the work that needs to be done. In the Fall of 2020, we formed committees to focus on developing programmatic recommendations, including one focused on Downtown. And while we still have a committee related to the development of Easton Point and Port street, we have broadened that committee’s focus to support Downton/Main Street investment. We also have a Communications Committee. Each of these committees met and produced proposed work plans for 2021. At the Board Retreat, these proposed plans were presented to the Board to allow them to make important decisions about the allocation of resources for the year.
EEDC: Looking back, what stands out for you from the past year?
TW: In 2020, we were all hit with an unimaginable shock. The Easton Economic Development Corporation quickly adapted its programs and resources to respond to what the community needed at that time. Our first order of business was to adapt our communication strategy to meet our business community’s needs during COVID-19. That led to the creation of eNews Update, our bi-weekly e-newsletter, which continues to be a go-to source for up to date economic development information for our community. (To receive e-News Update, click Here)
Also, at that time, the Mayor requested that we market Mistletoe Hall Commerce-Business Park, the Town of Easton’s new industrial park, and that was an unexpected task. We were probably one of the first in Maryland to put on a very COVID-safe event when we held the ribbon cutting it showed that, despite the challenges confronting us, government and business were still open for business.
The Town of Easton also requested that the EEDC host a Downtown Business Meeting in July to seek input from downtown business and property owners on the best strategies to provide pandemic relief to support our downtown businesses, particularly our retail businesses. Natalie Slater, Communications Manager, and I visited each business and hand-delivered invitations to the meeting. We had an incredible response, with over 70 business and property owners safely attending either in person or through ZOOM. Our meeting process resulted in nearly unanimous support for strategies to support our businesses and laid the groundwork for creating EEDC’s Downtown Committee. See report Here.
I am excited about Easton’s trajectory right now with the investment that we see in our Downtown with the advancement of Easton Point, the incredible work projects of BAAM, Polaris, and NAIMA Ventures. Interview with Derick Daly, founder of BAAM, Here.
Our Development Committee has a number of priorities set out for 2021. And one of those priorities is a task force to identify barriers to infill upper story and downtown investments. We’re also looking at a middle housing market analysis to spark housing unit creation.
EEDC: How do you feel about EEDC’s growth ?
TW: I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with an incredibly talented team. We started as a one-person staff, and now we’ve evolved into a three-person staff with some consultative help and an incredibly diverse and talented board. We have formed committees that are working hard to advance the mission of the EEDC. And so, from a resource point of view, I think we are in the best position to help shepherd in Easton’s future, which has been impacted in both positive and negative ways by COVID.
EEDC: You said COVID has impacted Easton positively. Can you give more detail?
TW: We’re seeing an incredible amount of real estate property transfer occurring in Easton because the demand for small-town living and technology has changed within the time of COVID. Technology has made it possible for people to live in different ways and still do their work. And so, we’re seeing young families moving to Easton just as our schools are seeing increased enrollments.
EEDC: Do you see the same positive impact for Downtown?
TM: In the early days of COVID, the streets were completely empty, and there was a feeling of Downtown being desolate and even a little bit scary, which was unfamiliar. It helped me to appreciate how vital our downtowns are and the need to keep them vibrant. Fast forward a few months later, and the streets were filled with new faces supporting new and old businesses. If you talk to many of our downtown businesses, 2020 was a banner year in terms of their business performance.
EEDC: Late last year, EEDC hired Jeff Lankford as the Director of Downtown Development. How did this change EEDC’s mission?
TW: Well, clearly, the organization is now highly focused on Downtown, and with that, a lot of our resources are now allocated to Downtown. Jeff has been an incredible asset to the town of Easton and to our organization. His efforts in Downtown have been extremely effective in a very short time. He introduced the very popular downtown gift card, a program that will remain in place and support our businesses for years to come. He’s also using his knowledge and understanding of the hospitality business–which is his training–to help Easton make important adjustments in this time of COVID so that our Downtown is accessible, beautiful, clean, safe, and vibrant.
EEDC: Since EEDC has taken over the work previously done by Discover Easton, what can we expect to be different or the same?
TW: I’m excited about the EEDC team and our ability to support our Downtown at this time. We will continue supporting events at the same level or greater and will continue essential marketing and promotions. We anticipate adding new events, such as the very popular carriage rides coming on Valentine’s day weekend. Our plan also includes gestures of hospitality, such as increased seating and beautification strategies in Downtown. It also includes technical assistance to our businesses to help them adapt to new opportunities. We’re also looking at supporting the CommUNITY Days event in the spring and fall this year, building on the success of that event last year. I think we can safely say, look out for lots of exciting new and old things.
Meet the EEDC’s Board of Directors Here
EEDC 2021 Work Plan Here