Downtown and Business District Economic Development


  • Market Analysis Toolbox provides research to support informed economic development decisions.  The toolbox provides downtown development leaders with proven techniques for conducting commercial district market studies.
  • Downtown Economics Topics offers ideas on how to create a vibrant downtown in a small city.  The publications analyze the benefits and difficulties of downtowns on topics ranging from coexisting with Big Box Stores to planning the optimal business mix.
  • Innovative Downtown Businesses provides examples of how businesses are attracting people back to the heart of the town.  These case studies are designed to provide local economic development leaders with innovative ideas for their planning efforts.
  • Downtown Storefront Improvements provides research, information, and analysis to help make decisions about whether or not to improve the appearance of a downtown building.  This guide aids in assessing the feasibility of projects based on the experiences of others.
  • Small-Town Downtown Forms are annual events that bring together business and community leaders working in communities of fewer than 1,500.  Forum participants to learn from each other through case studies, roundtables and discussion groups.
  • Extension Downtown Revitalization Educational Resources is a web-based inventory of U.S. Extension resources related to downtown revitalization.  It is intended for both educators and downtown professionals.
  • Downtown Research Reports provide information to help your community compare itself to other places in Wisconsin. Reports include an analysis of business mix, downtown employment, downtown residents, and more.


Has your small town found a creative use for a vacant building?

WEDC and UWEX are seeking your examples. WEDC  and UW-Extension, are working together to identify creative uses for vacant downtown buildings in small towns. The purpose of this project is to provide Wisconsin’s small communities with research and case studies highlighting different ways to meaningfully occupy vacant properties. They are looking for examples that showcase […]

5 Keys to Small Town Success

It’s About Resilience, Not Growth. A power point presentation for the Small Town Forums, 2015, by Gary Becker.

For downtowns, the future is now

Talk to anyone of a certain age — say 50 and older — about the downtowns in Wisconsin’s villages and small cities and the conversation is liable to turn nostalgic.
Whatever happened to the world of communities of 5,000 with three or four hardware and shoe stores, a couple of jewelry stores, drug stores with soda fountains, multiple grocery stores and even a few national or home-grown department stores?


Artistree Gallery Cooperative and Land O’Lakes Area Artisans, Inc. Land O’ Lakes, WI Wendy Powalisz, Kelly Haverkampf, Dayna Sarver             In 2007, the Land O’Lakes Chamber of Commerce Community Development Committee participated in the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s (UWEX) First Impressions community exchange program with the town of Phelps.  First Impressions is […]

Downtown Storefront Improvements: Analyzing Return on Investment

A team from University of Wisconsin-Extension and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation examined 24 case studies of storefront improvement projects in Wisconsin over the past 15 years.  These case studies ranged from rural Wisconsin to urban metropolitan areas.  The types of capital improvements were just as vast, ranging from less than $2000 to well over $300,000. […]

An Analysis of Downtown Storefront Improvements

We invite you to delve into the latest report on state case studies taken from restaurants, retail stores, and personal and professional services. Business and property owners, as well as public sector officials, require sound research, information, and analysis when making decisions about improving the appearance of downtown buildings. This guide aids in assessing the […]

Who Lives in Wisconsin’s Downtowns? Demographic Characteristics of Residents

Housing has become an important element in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts.  Downtown housing contributes to an active environment that extends activity beyond traditional business hours. Downtown residents who live within a half mile of the middle of a downtown provide a captured market for convenience retail and services. Demographic data provides a foundation to help […]

Public Private Partnerships: Summary of Presentation

Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are collaborations between government and private sector companies to fund and operate a project.  This article summarizes a presentation by economic development professionals Naletta Burr and Quasan Shaw* and provides an overview of PPPs,  successful case studies, funding mechanisms, and development agreements.  Read the full summary (2 page PDF).

Downtown Financing Options

Economic incentives are often necessary to stimulate the type of development and reinvestment a downtown needs.  From traditional to unusual tools and sources, communities are experimenting with new economic development tools for their central commercial districts.  This article summarizes a presentation by economic development professional, Kristen Fish, and explores a variety of options for development […]

A Profile of Wisconsin’s Small Town Downtowns

Downtown districts in Wisconsin’s small cities and villages have significantly different demographic and economic characteristics from those in larger cities.  These differences can help us understand their particular issues and opportunities for downtown revitalization.  This article profiles small town downtowns from the perspective of who lives downtown, who works there, and what businesses operate in […]

Rural Wisconsin Today Publication

The second annual Rural Wisconsin Today publication was unveiled at the recent Rural Summit (see above).  This publication, a joint effort of the Wisconsin Rural Partners and UW-Extension’s Center for Community and Economic Development, offers a status and trends of rural Wisconsin.  It addresses: population, employment, income, farming, education, and housing.  The publication and supporting […]

Downtown Facade Improvements: A Study of Return-On-Investment

Example projects for consideration as case studies are welcomed!