The story of Hudson, Massachusetts winning a national competition is the story of several small businesses working together. How did they do it? This may be the most valuable information a small business owner can use.
We’ll take you through the process step-by-step, but first, a little background.
Winning the 2021 High Streets America Road to Recovery contest
Independent We Stand is pleased to recognize Hudson, Massachusetts, as the $25,000 winner of America’s 2021 Road to Recovery contest. Over 1 million votes were cast by a nationwide audience in the sixth annual contest.
The Hudson Downtown Business Improvement area mobilized its extensive network of 85 owners and partners in the Hudson Business Association, the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce and their community to vote in support of its entry. The organization plans to use award funds to promote culture and the arts.
How can your city emulate the success of the Hudson?
About twelve years ago, the vacancy rate on Main Street in Hudson was 20%. Today, Main Street is thriving with plenty of pedestrian traffic. People shop and eat in many big stores, enjoy restaurants, brewery and small cream factory.
How did Hudson do it? Have they hired a marketing/business expert, and put that person in charge, nope. They found Richard A. Braga, director of the business improvement district of downtown Hudson. Braga did not come on board with a business school background or experience. Braga, a retired Hudson Police Chief, has a degree in criminal justice.
What do you bring to work? Years of building relationships and networking, and a true love for his community. Braga First outlined the early steps Hudson took to revitalize the Main Street area in the following way:
- Business owners came together and formed an association with the specific goal of revitalizing a main street.
- Business owners contacted a local real estate agent and accused that person of representing all the vacant properties on Main Street. The agent was challenged to find tenants to buy or rent each property.
- Business owners launched the Buy Local program.
The next step was the formation of the Business Improvement District.
“We had some success, taking some positions, and we wanted to take it to the next level,” Braga said. “In November 2017, we set up the Business Improvement District.” Braga said at the time, such areas were not common. Hudson was number 8y to form in Massachusetts.
A business improvement district is a legal entity that must meet two criteria: First, 60% of all property owners must agree to join it. And second, that 60% must represent 51% or more of the property residing in the area. Once the area was established, business owners approached Braga.
“When they said they wanted me to be the director, I told them I knew nothing about it,” Braga recalls. “I had a blast, just saw what we could do.”
How Business Improvement Zone Makes Money
Braga explained that the Biz Improvement District “breaks through the red tape” because these areas are self-contained and managed enterprises. (He added that each state may have its own laws on how to organize and administer such an area.)
Here’s how they did it at the Hudson, starting with raising money for improvements.
“The property owners agreed to tax themselves, and pay a percentage of their assessed value,” Braga said. “The money is collected by the city, and the city is putting the money back into the business improvement district.”
The board of directors makes decisions about how the money is spent. In Hudson, money went to improve the Main Street area such as expanding sidewalks to enhance outdoor dining possibilities (this was before the pandemic). Additional beautification projects included updating the street lamps to a globe style, stylish lighting, and adding seating. They were also able to establish a business improvement area as a 501c3, capable of receiving tax-deductible donations.
The next step is the key to any commercial area, parking. They addressed this problem by mapping parking sites. “There was a lot of parking, but people were not aware of the locations,” Braga said. “Everyone wants to stand right in front of the company, but you just won’t be so lucky – you have to walk a little.”
Braga said the demographics of visitors on Main Street in Hudson range from 25 to 50 years old, which creates pedestrian traffic.
Involve commercial area owners in the search for tenants
“We put messages on social media about business sites that were open and ready for new tenants or owners,” Braga said. “We got a lot more feedback than we expected – every time we listed something, we got dozens of inquiries.”
“We were building a good foundation in the middle of town, and people were starting to see it as a good place to locate,” he added. “They see it as a good opportunity.”
The Business Improvement District has a lot of projects and a lot of committees. Braga said, so did the Hudson Business Association and the Aspat Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“The secret of our success is that we work so well with each other and with the city,” Braga said. “We have a seat at their table and they have a seat at our table.”
When COVID . struck
The Business Improvement District used some of the money it raised to hire a certified public accountant. The accountant assisted companies in the PPP application process and application of tolerance.
“It was hard for a lot of business owners,” Braga said. “Out of 105 companies, more than 70 have benefited from this service that we gave them for free.”
“We have lost some business but we have also not stopped attracting new business,” he added. “At the end of the day, we’re in better shape now than we were on 3/20/20.”
This article, “How Your City Can Emulate Hudson’s Success” was first published in Small Business Trends