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Women Excel as Business Improvement District Directors

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mary Hoehne
March 17, 2015

Business improvement districts (BIDs) are organizations that develop women’s management skills and hire women to fulfill high-reaching, lofty goals and objectives often impossible to accomplish. BIDs began in the late 1970s. Currently, there are more than 2,200 BIDs globally and growing.

The typical BID executive director is responsible for a multitude of administration, business support and tenant recruitment, marketing, communications and advocacy duties for regions that are often distressed. These regions may face a multitude of problems, ranging from high poverty rates, high vacancy rates, decreasing property values, high crime statistics and a disproportionate number of distressed properties. The director is hired to improve the area, create an inviting image, attract new businesses, retain current businesses and increase property values.

An effective BID director can juggle many projects, negotiate with government agencies, develop new hope in neglected neighborhoods, cheerlead the area’s strengths and find partners to assist with the BID’s goals. Despite the multitude of factors working against the neighborhoods, the BID director must truly believe in the capacity of the organization to create needed change and improvements; often without the assistance and financial support of the local government.

BID Directors Must Be Communicators

A BID director must create a vision and convince others that the vision is attainable while daily reacting to the reality of the neighborhood and its problems. The BID director needs to convey to investors, partners, collaborators, funding partners, residents, business owners and the board the potential of the area and the ability of the neighborhood to turn around.

Qualities of Women Leaders

Hoehne marchThe BID directors must be leaders. The job and its requirements might appear daunting. However, it can be motivating to the right person, who often is a woman. Women leaders exhibit the qualities needed as a BID director. Several surveys and articles attribute seven qualities to highly successful women leaders. The qualities most often mentioned are:

  • Perseverance.
  • Confidence.
  • A Nurturing Spirit.
  • Vision.
  • Generosity.
  • Education.
  • Life Balance.

Women Leaders Make Great BID Leaders          

The BID director’s job is not easy. There are many barriers and frustrations. So how do the qualities most often attributed to women leaders relate to the skills needed to be a good or great BID director?

A BID director must commit to the neighborhood and persevere, regardless of the challenges and hurdles. The director must exhibit belief and commitment to the overall mission. Because there are numerous challenges often out of the director’s control, she must never lose confidence that her staff, her board, her community, and the many partners can work together to achieve the long-term vision. The director must believe in herself and think she is the person to lead the evolution of the neighborhood.

The frustrations, delays, and losses can dampen the neighborhood’s spirit and discourage the board, staff and partners. The director needs to always nurture the community and nurture others dedicated to the neighborhood to assure they do not lose faith in the community.

Women leaders inspire trust as they lay out the possibilities of the future and the vision of the change that will reenergize the community. It is a necessity for a BID director to be a visionary and convey the vision to everyone involved. Visionaries see possibilities in situations and places that others only see dust and ruin. More importantly, visionaries share the possibilities with others and have the ability to gain support and belief of that vision.

One of the more challenging traits needed in a BID director is a giving spirit and the ability to check one’s own ego and give credit to others for the achievements and accomplishments. This is necessary because BIDs need collaborators and partnerships. It is easier to create and maintain relationships if the director has a generous spirit and attitude.

The role of the BID director is extensive and requires knowledge of many areas including public policy, urban planning, history, urban studies, architecture, political science, communications, marketing and psychology. Women leaders tend to have earned many degrees and often continue their education as they further their careers. It is necessary for a BID leader to be a lifelong learner.

Lastly, the BID job can be exhaustive and overwhelming if the director fails to maintain a life balance. Women in leadership positions often recognize the need for balance in their lives and understand when to leave the daunting tasks of the job at work while they rejuvenate and experience life.

The traits of women leaders are traits necessary for the BID executive director position. In major urban areas, women hold the position as BID executive director and are the visionaries changing neighborhoods. An encouraging fact is most BIDs employ more than one employee and most often the BID directors hire other women who are given opportunities that help them sharpen their skills and grow into future leadership positions.


Author: Mary Hoehne is the executive director of the Granville Business Improvement District, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Granville BID includes more than 375 properties and is an assortment of more than 75 manufacturers, large auto dealers, stores, some urban blight, a solid middle class and a huge area of subsidized housing. Ms. Hoehne is also working on her Ph. D. in Public Administration from Walden University. Her research topic addresses the role of BIDs. Ms. Hoehne can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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