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Brainerd not among finalists for $500,000 prize

Amanda Brinkman and Ty Pennington announce the five finalists for the Small Business Revolution contest early Tuesday morning via Facebook Live. 1 / 2
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Early Tuesday morning the final five cities still in the hunt for a $500,000 boost for small businesses were revealed and Brainerd was not among them.

Amanda Brinkman and new co-cost Ty Pennington, part of the upcoming season three of the "Small Business Revolution-Main Street" online series, announced the five cities chosen from the Top 10 during a Facebook Live interview. Brinkman said the Deluxe company took on this project as a way to help small businesses that are struggling in small communities, facing competition from ecommerce and from big box retailers.

"So we wanted to do something about that," Brinkman said. "We wanted to reignite the national conversation about how important your small businesses are to making your town unique. If you as a resident of that town don't support your small businesses pretty soon the things that make you different and make you unique aren't going to be there anymore. And we're just going to become a country of faceless brands."

Brinkman said small businesses have advantages in personalization, customer service and they need to figure out the experience they are offering that helps them compete.

"There are so many small businesses that are figuring that out," she said. "I think we are all hungry for that connection."

Pennington will now join Brinkman for season three of the series.

Pennington is a familiar face as the energetic TV host of popular shows such as ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" which was on the air for nine seasons. Pennington's addition was part of the surprise announcement Tuesday.

"I think people want to live closer to a community like that where they are just a couple streets away from where that sort of energy exists on main street," Pennington said. "I think those two go hand in hand."

Pennington brought his brand of humor to the early morning announcement and said it was an exciting opportunity for him to be part of helping a makeover for an entire community.

After thousands of nominations, Brainerd was among the top 20 and then the top 10 along with Aberdeen, S.D., Alton, Ill.,Americus, Ga., Amesbury, Mass., Bastrup, Texas, Exeter, N.H., Florence, Ore., Martinez, Calif., and Siloam Springs, Ark.

"This year we visited 10 incredible communities," Brinkman said.

A number of area residents were awake and commenting on social media before the announcement, hoping Brainerd would be a finalist. Community members were ready to immediately begin the voting process and reach out to Minnesotans across the state and visitors to the lakes area to help push Brainerd to a win.

Brinkman said the entire thesis of the online series is when downtowns and small businesses thrive, the entire community benefits. Over the course of the three years with the show, Brinkman said Deluxe received 30,000 nominations for cities.

Now the public will choose the winning city from the finalists. The final five cities are Alton, Ill., Amesbury, Mass., Bastrop, Texas, Martinez, Calif., Siloam Springs, Ark.

"I think these five towns truly personify what we are trying to prove with the show," Brinkman said. "If you have a strong business core the town can thrive."

Brinkman said the towns have hard-working people and share a story of losing a large employer. "We really do need to rely on the small businesses and it can be a lot of little things that bring your local economy back to life."

With the winning town, Brinkman said they do work on tourism and attracting people to the small businesses, but there is another focus as well.

"We just as much focus on making sure that the residents within the community understand the importance of supporting the small businesses that are right there down the street that are investing in that same community alongside them."

Brinkman said the idea of the series is also to help small businesses across the country by showing how the highlighted businesses are working to solve many of the same problems they have in common.

About the Small Business Revolution contest

The winning community will be the featured city in season three of the online series "Small Business Revolution-Main Street." Filming for the series is expected in March and June. The winning city, picked as one of America's most inspiring small towns, receives an award of $500,000 to help its revival with marketing and business expertise aimed at assisting its small businesses. The program was started by the Deluxe corporation in 2016. Deluxe, a Minnesota-based company, was inspired to start the series after it shared the stories of 100 small businesses for the company's 100th birthday in 2015. Deluxe, remembered as the company behind checks, has evolved to offer small business marketing solutions and financial services.

The endeavor to share small business stories, Deluxe representatives stated, brought out the ways those businesses were still struggling to recover in the Great Recession's aftermath. The online series began as a way to help small businesses and small towns succeed and learn from each other as they worked to create stronger communities. The Main Street series airs on, Hulu and YouTube with Brinkman as host, along with marketing experts from Deluxe.