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Mary Helmer Wirth is an Alabama Bright Light shining on Main Street

Mary Helmer Wirth knows all about falling in love with a place.

It’s a feeling Helmer Wirth experiences regularly as the president and state coordinator of Main Street Alabama. Through her work, she helps smaller and historic communities increase their appeal in hopes of bringing in jobs, resources and people.

“Economic development is at the heart of this state, and I absolutely adore being there for our smaller communities and helping them become more vibrant,” Helmer Wirth said. “Our mission is to create jobs while keeping character. We work with downtowns and neighborhood and commercial districts in Alabama. We also help business owners be more successful.”

Main Street Alabama is affiliated with the National Main Street Center. Helmer Wirth and her staff help communities improve their neighborhoods, promote their business districts and expand their economic base.

Main Street Alabama’s Mary Helmer Wirth is an Alabama Bright Light from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We receive tactics and tools from the National Main Street Center, and we use these tools and tactics to assist communities to become a better place for their residents,” Helmer Wirth said. “One of the things we provide is geofencing data,” which is analytical and demographic information that towns and cities can use to better understand who is visiting their downtowns or coming in to attend special events. “Alabama Power helps us accomplish that task.”

To offer all the programs Main Street Alabama provides, Helmer Wirth depends on funding from partners such as the Alabama Power Foundation.

“We have received wonderful funding from the Alabama Power Foundation,” she said. “That money helped us reach out to communities that could not afford our services. When we bring on new communities, we help them with a strategic plan and other programs. That can cost up to $20,000, so the assistance from the Alabama Power Foundation makes it easier for smaller communities to participate.”

Helmer Wirth and her staff pressed on during the pandemic to continue helping communities and cities in Alabama.

“COVID has affected us at Main Street Alabama but by April 2020, a month after the pandemic (began), we were out in the field. We did it with masks and social distancing, and we went into our communities and asked how to help them through the health crisis,” Helmer Wirth said. “Restaurants specifically needed assistance. We created programs where people can sit outside.”

For Helmer Wirth, being with Main Street Alabama is rewarding.

“I grew up in a family of 12 kids. Mom always said, ‘Leave it better than you found it.’ Knowing what we do leaves things better than we found them, it feels great,” she said. “You know you’re leaving a mark on a community. You change the world a little bit at a time.”

Main Street Alabama has 29 designated cities.

“I literally fall in love with our cities and our communities,” Helmer Wirth said, “and we are excited to continue our mission.”

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