After three years and two months, Laurie Miller will bid goodbye to her post as executive director at the Sumner Downtown Association on Friday (April 10).
With the search for the new executive director kicking off this week, Miller is looking forward to a fresh start after years of hard work for the Sumner downtown. She has accepted a business officer manager position with Meridian at Stone Creek in Milton.
“This is a boutique retirement community,” she said. “It will be basically going back to my roots, which is office management.”
According to Miller, most executive directors stay in the position for two to four years.
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“People often get a little burnt out or the position becomes stagnant,” Miller said. “I’m a person who likes to see things continue to move forward. This last year things have plateaued. I think a new incoming director will come in with fresh ideas — renewed energy. I think that can only benefit the downtown and the merchants as a whole.”
Miller cites budget issues as the primary means for her resignation; the SDA relies a great deal on the Mainstreet Tax Credit Incentive program, which started in 2005 to benefit rural main street programs across the state.
“The Legislature passed this in hopes the communities would support what they do for small businesses and the historic downtowns,” Miller said. “What that means is that every business in town pays a B & O or a public utilities tax. What this program allows them to do is to direct it to a main street program, rather than to the state of Washington.”
When the tax incentive program began, there were 13 communities vying for $1.5 million, the state cap. Now, there are 34 communities battling for that same $1.5 million.
“With 34 of us trying to get $133,000, $1.5 million is not much of a cap,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, last year downtown businesses failed to get their commitments in early enough so that impacted our budget negatively. That’s why I’m in the position of having to leave SDA because our budget just won’t finance my position in the same light that it has for three years.”
When Miller started as executive director, the association had 73 merchants. Now upon her departure, Miller says membership has climbed to 100 merchants, which for a community the size of Sumner is quite impressive.
Reflecting back on her time in Sumner, the highlight for Miller was the many relationships she has built with merchants.
“When you live in a small community, you see the absolute value in small business,” she said. “It has been my pleasure to serve them and promote them as a viable entity of the Sumner Community.”
As for her biggest accomplishment, she says it is reestablishing connections with downtown merchants, and getting designation as a main street program, which is crucial if the organization wants to continue to participate in the Mainstreet Tax Credit program.
“We’re going to miss her a lot,” said Christine Kern of North Light Interiors. “She added so much to downtown Sumner.”
Miller will continue to volunteer at events, and will still reside in Sumner. If the organization allows, Miller will also chair the car show in August, and maintain the organization’s Facebook page.
“I’m excited for the change, for a new start in something I know very well,” Miller said. “I’ve established some great relationships, have built the membership up, created a fabulous following on Facebook. I believe I’ve also established a great connection with the local media. I managed to get the Downtown Association their designation as a mainstreet program. Sometimes a fresh start is necessary to move forward.
“I’m not one to sit and spin my wheels. I like to be moving if my wheels are spinning.”