Growing Communities Initiative Toolbox

This page - our GCI Toolbox - is designed to provide tools to help you address issues, plan and carry out improvement projects, grow your businesses, and run your organization effectively.  Some of the tools can be downloaded and posted on local websites.  Others can be linked to local websites.  New tools added regularly so check back often. Access full PDFs with interactive links describing CGI Services in the column at right, below Contact information.

Downtown Revitalization

University of Wisconsin Innovative Downtown Businesses
How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places

Ideas for Rural Communities and Small Towns 

Some Strategies for Small Downtown Revitalization, presented by N. David Milder at the 7 Rivers Alliance Revitalize Storefronts Conference
Vibrant Rural Communities Case Studies Series 

Business Recruitment and Entrepreneurship
Quality-of-Life-Based Retail Recruitment in Towns and Cities with Populations Under about 35,000, by N. David Milder
Business Starts in the Midwest: potential entrepreneurial groups

Should your Downtown Development Organization Start a Business?
It is becoming increasingly common for nonprofit organizations to engage in managing business ventures when state laws and regulations permit. Downtown development organizations may find these ventures especially valuable as a potential source of revenue and as a way to encourage downtown growth. If your organization is considering starting a venture, there are several points to consider. (None of these items should be interpreted as offering advice or suggestions for a nonprofit to undertake a business activity.) To learn more, refer to the following articles:

Enterprising Nonprofits, Harvard Business Review

For practical information about starting a business:

Can a church coffee shop be a nonprofit? CNN Money
Taking Care of Business: Use of a For-Profit Subsidiary by a Nonprofit Organization, American Bar Association
Community Supported Businesses, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs Rural Research Report

Creative Economy

Movie Theaters

"Movie Theaters," by N. David Milder

Of the 31 operating historic theaters in North Dakota identified by one researcher, 19 are community-run. See: Patricia Leigh Brown, "Movie Houses Find Audience in the Plains,” New York Times, July 4, 2010;  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/05/us/05theater.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

In New York, the Adirondack Film Society and the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) created a Go Digital Or Go Dark program that won state grants and used the Razoo online crowdfunding service to raise matching funds from local residents. See:  Paul Post, “Small Theaters in Adirondacks Face Choice in Switch to Digital: Pay or Perish,” New York Times, Dec. 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/26/nyregion/in-switch-to-digital-small-theaters-in-adirondacks-face-choice-pay-or-perish.html 

North American Industry Classification System

Services for Businesses

Local Downtown Development organizations provide assistance to existing downtown businesses, businesses thinking of opening a downtown location and entrepreneurs considering starting a new business.  Here you will find tools useful to businesses in all stages of operation.

What to Consider Before Starting a Business
Business Plan Template
Monthly Cash Flow Estimator
Self Employment Payroll Tax Estimator (2013)
Payroll Tax Estimator

Organization Management

Managing a local Downtown Development organization requires skills in many areas including fund raising, budgeting, staffing and volunteers, communications and more. This section of the toolbox includes resources useful in the day to day management of the organization and in planning for the future.

Local Program Self-Assessment Tool
Operating Reserves: What are they? Do we need them? How do we get them?
Annual Budgeting Checklist
Budgeting: A guide for small nonprofits
501c3 v 501c6

Innovations in Organization Management
Changing lifestyles, declining public funding and a crowded nonprofit sector make it challenging for nonprofit organizations to find and retain well-qualified executive directors, recruit and keep volunteers, develop sustainable funding, and work within traditional committee structures.  CGS led an extended conversation among 36 successful Main Street executive directors on meeting these challenges.  This report includes their experiences and ideas, along with current thinking from nonprofit leaders nationwide.  The findings are then distilled into an easy to use Organization Solutions Grid.  Read it here.

Market Study Guide

A market study provides valuable information on downtown’s potential and guidance in developing a plan for downtown growth.  The following websites provide guides to understanding the market study process and help in preparing your own market study.

Downtown and Business District Market Analysis provided by University of Wisconsin Extension
Market Analysis for Main Street Provided by Ulster County, New York Planning Department

Historic Preservation and Design Resources

Downtown Development design projects include everything from street furniture to historic building restorations.  The tools in this section can help with a variety of types of projects as well as educate volunteers and residents.

Preservation Resources

Design archive 
Anatomy of a Main Street building 
Basic maintenance for historic buildings 
National Register of Historic Places
Certified Local Governments

Green Design

Green (sustainable) preservation 





For additional information about Growing Communities Initiative, please contact:

Mim Evans
Research Associate
Center for Governmental Studies, NIU

Norman Walzer
Senior Research Scholar
Center for Governmental Studies, NIU

Click on each image below to access interactive PDFs that include details about each service category: