Looking to grow Middlesboro Main Street

Published 2:38 pm Thursday, February 8, 2024

Since being named the executive director of Middlesboro Main Street in December, Celia Shoffner has been focused on growing the organization’s membership and developing grant opportunities.

Those goals go hand-in-hand as Middlesboro Main Street has secured three separate grants since October — two specifically aimed at empowering new entrepreneurs and one to improve technology used by the organization.

Shoffner wrote all three grants while serving on the Main Street Board and will now be overseeing how they are put into action.

The first grant was for $100,000 from The Hartford Small Business Accelerator Program and will be used to create a multi-faceted business incubator space downtown.

“That’s for aspiring entrepreneurs and will be a collaboration space in a building downtown and we hope to have spaces where artisans can come and have a pop-up shop or sell their products,” Shoffner said. “It’s really to provide an opportunity for people who don’t have the resources to find a warehouse or a place to create their products. They will be able to make it and sell it in this space.”

It was also recently announced that Middlesboro was one of 30 communities nationwide to participate in Main Street America’s Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Rural Communities Pilot Program, supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, in partnership with Forward Cities.

Along with joining a cohort of national thought leaders and partners, communities will receive a $5,000 seed grant and $1,500 toward professional development certification with the International Economic Development Council.

“It’s a $5,000 seed and we have the opportunity to turn it into $15,000 if we find a matching partner. That will play on the $100,000 grant for the entrepreneur ecosystem hub. So we’ve got three grants in play right now that we’re ready to start acting on,” Shoffner said.

Middlesboro Main Street has also received a $25,000 ARC Power grant.

“That will be just for internal capacity building for our organization. We’ll be able to buy some technology with that and some recruitment materials for our membership drive,” Shoffner said.. “We’re really excited to have some iPads and nice technology to bring downtown for our events. It takes the pen and paper tracking system away and allows us to go electronic.”

Shoffner said she developed her grant-writing skills while working at LMU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Born and raised in Middlesboro, Shoffner’s roots in tourism and hospitality run deep. Her great grandmother, also named Celia Shoffner, was a pioneering entrepreneur who owned and operated a thriving tourist home, greenhouse, and service station in Middlesboro during the 1950s-1970s. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications from the University of Kentucky, with a minor in Art and Photography.

“My family’s history is deep in tourism and hospitality. So it’s something that seems to come naturally to me — being welcoming and creating spaces for people to feel invited and included to join in on events that we plan in the future,” she said.

With those grants now in place, adding members is the next goal on Shoffner’s list.

“I really would like to see our membership grow this year and would like to be able to have some incentives to offer our businesses that join,” she said. “We also want to create a partnership with the Chamber where we collaborate and do a lot of things together to reach a broader audience.”

As an ambassador for the city, she’s quick to point out the beautiful geography of the area when speaking to others.

“I always start by telling them when you stand on our Main Street you are surrounded by mountains. It’s picturesque, it’s gorgeous, we are a town built inside a meteorite crater. They are very taken aback by that and excited to learn more,” Shoffner said.

Shoffner said she was “super excited” to take on the role of Middlesboro Main Street’s executive director. You can email her at downtownmiddlesboro@gmail.com or follow Middlesboro Main Street on Facebook.