Main Street Lincoln Park in Duluth, Minnesota, is one of six winners of the Main Street Forward Awards, which recognize communities that have shown exemplary recovery and resilience efforts amid the multiple crises of 2020. Selected by a national jury of economic development experts, Main Street Lincoln Park (MS LNPK) is being honored for its work to ensure the Lincoln Park community had access to food, funding, and other essential resources over the past year.
Ecolibrium3 has been a resource for Lincoln Park since 2004, spearheading initiatives to address climate change, reduce poverty, and spur economic growth in the historically disinvested area. As 2020 began, Ecolibrium3 had planned to accelerate its revitalization efforts by forming an official economic development arm, Main Street Lincoln Park, and joining the national Main Street America network. Then the pandemic hit—and Ecolibrium3’s efforts to support the local economy became even more important.
As COVID-19 shuttered businesses nationwide, Ecolibrium3 and the newly formed MS LNPK got to work, taking a comprehensive and innovative approach to recovery. “Our strategy centered on three main goals: keeping the neighborhood fed, connecting residents and businesses to essential resources, and ensuring health and welfare for all,” said Jodi Slick, founder and CEO of Ecolibrium3.
Because Lincoln Park is an urban food desert, when restaurants were closed in March, MS LNPK volunteers staffed a free farmers market sponsored by Bent Paddle Brewing and Sysco. MS LNPK also coordinated fundraising and distribution for 3,500 meals delivered to neighborhood children while schools were closed.
For local businesses, the group curated resource guides, provided technical assistance and scenario planning, hosted webinars on the Paycheck Protection Program, trained businesses on strategy for conversations with banks and landlords, and met with government leaders to advocate for the district. MS LNPK also offered $10,000 in safe reopening grants, partnered with US Bank and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to offer $40,000 in COVID recovery funding, developed district safety protocols and signage, and added new garbage and recycling cans in the community when the city eliminated garbage collection due to COVID-related budget shortfalls.
MS LNPK’s pandemic response also included several efforts to ensure health and wellness, including Pay it Forward PPE, a partnership with Duluth outdoor goods manufacturer Frost River. While Frost River shifted its production to face masks, Ecolibrium3 and MS LNPK recruited more than 1,000 volunteers to assemble 225,000 face shields at a local indoor football field. Pay it Forward PPE distributed the equipment to community members, Main Street businesses, and youth and equity-based organizations. After George Floyd’s death, Pay it Forward PPE also gave masks to protestors and donated 2,000 masks to the Minneapolis NAACP.
As the Pay it Forward PPE project garnered media and community attention, MS LNPK leveraged the exposure to benefit local businesses by accelerating the development, marketing, design, and launch of the Main Street LNPK gift card. Since the program was introduced, MS LNPK has generated nearly $25,000 in gift card purchases—all of which goes to support local businesses.
“Lincoln Park in Duluth is a new Minnesota Main Street partner, and we have been so inspired by positive energy that has come to Lincoln Park-Duluth in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Emily Kurash Casey, Rural Programs Coordinator for Rethos. “The fast planning, forethought, and attention to true community needs and desires has allowed Lincoln Park to flourish in a time of crisis. The symbiotic partnership of business with non-profit with greater community that Lincoln Park has created is true Main Street leadership.”