The Key to Downtown Revitalization?

Brooke Rouse

A vibrant downtown is on the top of nearly every community’s wish list; how to get there is the question. Livability is a word used in planning that refers to the aspects of a community that improve quality of life. If livability is high, people will want to live, work and play in the community and are invested and committed to its future. Factors include both built and natural elements, “economic prosperity, social stability and equality, educational opportunity and cultural, entertainment and recreation possibilities” as defined by the Partners for Livable Communities.

     A review of several “top rated downtowns” reveal some common threads, often referencing locations that have experienced the common theme of peripheral development draining downtowns, and a new surge of interest in bringing people and business back to the historic commercial centers. Of greatest importance is that a community has a vision statement. Ideally the vision statement is then translated into a comprehensive plan that includes action items and key stakeholders and partners. That vision will direct the priority, investment and character of some of the other elements noted here as “keys to livability.”

     Land Use and Zoning: Communities are diligently reviewing their zoning and land use laws to ensure they are updated and in line with the current vision for the community. Often the comprehensive plan may identify what the “downtown” is, which may be a certain area or street other than the Main Street. Many municipalities are operating off of old and sometimes irrelevant or counterproductive laws.

     Pedestrian Friendly: Access and safety for cyclists and walkers is a top priority in increasing downtown vitality. Widening streets, widening and connecting sidewalks and paths, installation and strategic placement of light posts and bike racks, along with beautification features such as landscaping and public art all entice more people, and families, to come and spend time in the downtown. Reduced noise and pollution, combined with increased public spaces for outdoor dining and music are defining “hip” downtowns.

     Private – Public Partnerships: Successful communities have mechanisms in place for residents to contribute financially to the success of the community, whether it is for a civic or commercial project. These financial “holdings” may be in the form of a crowd sourcing campaign, partnership with a bank or foundation, or as a part of the municipal government. Public funds are necessary (or encouraged) to leverage almost any grant opportunity through state and private foundations and are critical to move projects forward.

     Arts, Entertainment and the Creative Class: Top downtowns always include a number of things to entertain people…a key to quality of life. Identifying, supporting and leveraging art and culture; museums, venues, and events will ensure residents and visitors are enjoying their community. Additionally, what has been referred to as the creative class (by and others) includes engaging and finding a meaningful place for artists, innovators, researchers and technology experts to work and share their work.

     These are some of the key Livability Factors. What do you see in your community? What are you missing? Why do live there and why do you consider leaving? These are all good questions for conversation in your community. In 2017, get engaged, join a committee, run for public office, start a private enterprise! Communities will thrive when populations are steady (growing), healthy and happy!

BROOKE ROUSE is president and CEO of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at

August 2016: Commerce Corner

Workplace wellness: It really can be fun

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

Many of us spend a long day sitting in front of a computer, eating lunch at our desks, and eventually feeling the negative impacts of this routine on our health and wellness. When you think about it, this daily practice is not normal. Even on your biggest “couch potato” day at home, it is unlikely that you will sit in a chair in front of a screen for eight hours straight, unless of course, there is a great series marathon on Netflix. [Read more…]

June 2016: Business Scene

Carthage Area Chamber Citizen of the Year dinner at Carthage Elks Lodge 1762

The Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2015 Citizen of the Year award on May 10 at the Carthage Elks Lodge 1762.

[Read more…]

St. Lawrence County’s golf courses, cycling, wineries and more draw tourists

Brooke E. Rouse, director of St. Lawrence County’s Chamber of Commerce, and Joseph R. Goliber, visitor center manager, pose with copies of the agency’s visitor’s guide and angler’s guide at their Canton office. Photo by Susan Mende, Watertown Daily Times.

Brooke E. Rouse, director of St. Lawrence County’s Chamber of Commerce, and Joseph R. Goliber, visitor center manager, pose with copies of the agency’s visitor’s guide and angler’s guide at their Canton office. Photo by Susan Mende, Watertown Daily Times.

Boxes filled with 3,000 copies of the 47-page St. Lawrence County Chamber’s Visitor Guide headed across the border Wednesday for the Ottawa and Kingston areas to showcase golf, cycling, fishing and other recreational opportunities that continue to attract people to the rural north country. [Read more…]

May 2016: Business Scene

Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours at Community Bank

Community Bank’s West Carthage branch hosted the April Carthage Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours on April 13. [Read more…]

April 2016: Commerce Corner

Six ways colleges impact local economies

Brooke Rouse

Brooke Rouse

The north country is fortunate to be home to many institutions of higher education. Many businesses in college towns feel the ebbs and flows of a “semester-based business cycle” and periods of particular peaks during move in, move out, graduations, family weekends, reunions and sporting events. The influx of students and their families, as well as a constantly revolving pool of faculty and staff, presents challenges and tremendous opportunity for the local economy. Here are six ways that colleges help to drive the local economy: [Read more…]

April 2016: Business Scene

GWNC Chamber Business After Hours at Carthage Savings and Loan

Carthage Savings and Loan Association hosted the March Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours at its Arsenal Street offices on Wednesday, March 16. Photos by Karee Magee, NNY Business. [Read more…]

September 2015: Business Briefcase


New JCED website

Featuring videos of board meetings and other new resources, Jefferson County Economic Development recently launched a new website at [Read more…]

September 2015: Commerce Corner

Make a successful seasonal transition

Columnist Brooke James

Columnist Brooke Rouse

Fall brings beautiful colors, holiday preparations and harvest season. It also brings shorter, cooler days that signal it is time to prepare for hibernation. In the north country, we know that hibernation, given our long winters, is not a productive option. Business trends and cycles, as well as time and weather-dependent projects, may help direct fall planning for a successful seasonal transition. Being aware and strategic now may lead to your most successful year yet, whether you are a new entrepreneur or a veteran business owner. [Read more…]

August 2015: Commerce Corner

Advance your networking skills

Columnist Brooke James

Columnist Brooke James

In business and in leadership it is so important to develop professional relationships, whether it is with colleagues or customers. One aspect of developing a personal connection is by remembering and recalling a person’s name. How many times have you said or thought, “Wow, he remembered my name,” and been impressed. How many times have you approached someone thinking, “I know this person. Why do I know this person? What is their name?!” And then you are on the spot and must reintroduce, or avoid names all together.

People feel special when you know their name, and if you are trying to develop yourself as a leader and as a company that provides excellent customer service, take note of the following tips.

Name associations

At the time you are introduced to a new person try to pay close attention to their name, not just their face. As soon as possible, try to identify a word using the same letter or sound as their name that will help you remember that person. It may be an identifying word, such as blue-eyed Bill or crazy hat Kathy, or something random that connects to their personality, like fishing Frank. You can add any descriptive word to the name, such as Michigan Sally or Toyota Robin, or think of someone you already know well with the same name: “Cynthia, like my neighbor.” Try to play with these tricks to see what works for you. When you leave the person, try to repeat that name in your head and picture their face.

Write it down

If someone gives you his or her card, find the first opportunity to write the name of where you met them, and topics of conversation or associations that you made with them. For example, “NNY Business 20 Under 40 Luncheon, Watertown” and the date. And then “daughter at Cornell,” “loves to can peaches,” and “follow up on 2015 visitor statistics.” Any little details that will help to remind you of the individual person. This will also help you to remember the person when you look back through your cards and follow up with a personal greeting: “It was great to meet you at the marketing meeting last spring. I hope your daughter is enjoying her senior year at Cornell.” This will make you appear to have a great memory and will actually be helping to build your memory of the person. If you have a customer service management program or a contact book or online database, type in the business card when you return to the office and send a follow-up email, especially if it is a good lead. Immediate connection will help in the long run.

Research and be ready

Before you attend a meeting or a conference, look over the invite list if available. Do some research on the people attending through company websites or social networks like LinkedIn. If you can find out more about them or find a profile photo and have face recognition in advance, you are more likely to remember their name and can focus on meaningful conversation when you meet in person.

The awkward reintroduction

Everyone has the experience of not remembering a name when faced with an already-introduced person. If you know you are bad with names and have not yet perfected the above tips, here are a few ways to turn the situation around.

Bring a “wingman”; in this instance, think of this friend or colleague as the “social butterfly,” “networking” kind of wingman. Prep your partner ahead of time by admitting your weakness and ask that they be forthcoming with their handshake and name when you introduce them to people. This is your chance to hear the name when they respond. When you depart that conversation, be sure to use the person’s name — “Great seeing you again John” — and then practice the above tips to solidify it in your brain for the future.

Alternatively, if you are flying solo, just be brave and reintroduce yourself: “Hi, I’m Brooke from the chamber. We met at a previous meeting. What is your name again?” By reintroducing yourself, they are thankful and will kindly appreciate your reminder.

If you know names are a weakness, the best way to improve your skills is to put yourself in as many practice situations as possible. Networking is really important in today’s world, where word of mouth and personal connections go a long way. One great place to practice is through business associations such as chambers of commerce where networking events are hosted frequently.

Brooke Rouse is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at or 386-4000.