LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Efforts to create new jobs and promote investment in Michigan’s downtowns have prompted 21 communities to apply for a Main Street makeover.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. has joined forces with the National Main Street Center in a program that will get at least two Michigan communities a year’s worth of intensive training on downtown revitalization.

The Main Street program – operated in 39 states – provides experts who advise local officials on how to enhance commercial district appearances, market downtown, strengthen economic bases and foster cooperation among community groups and individual businesses.

Portland Mayor Marion Hilligan said the city already has programs geared toward business district improvements and hopes to add a Michigan Main Street designation to the list.

“We plan to submit an application that will knock their socks off,” she told the Lansing State Journal.

“Portland’s problems are the same as any other downtown with vacant storefronts and a weak economy,” she added. “But our stores are starting to sell, some people are beginning to invest in the downtown and we may have turned the corner.”

To be eligible for the Main Street project, a community must agree to pay the salary for a Main Street manager and provide office space at an estimated annual cost of $35,000.

“The interest level has peaked and the competition for the Main Street makeover will be fierce,” said Sabrina Keeley, MEDC’s acting chief executive officer.

The National Main Street Center has been working to revitalize historic or traditional commercial areas nationwide since 1980. The initial intent of saving historic commercial architecture has evolved into an economic development program, according to the MEDC.

Ionia City Manager Tom Wieczorek said the city has done several downtown projects, but like many other communities, would benefit from expert assistance.

“We have a lot of the pieces, and this program could help us put them all together,” he said.

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