Top 10. No. 1: Small Business Revolution keeps revving

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#MyRedWing. As 2017 began, the social media hashtag blanketed online platforms with stories, photos and videos explaining what makes Red Wing Red Wing. Banners and posters could be seen in every business window. The #MyRedWing buzz was everywhere.

In December of 2016, Red Wing was announced as one of the eight finalists for the $500,000 Small Business Revolution contest, hosted by the Deluxe Corporation. Some 14,000 applications were received for the contest.

"The beautiful river city of Red Wing, Minn., is much like the boots manufactured here at the Red Wing Shoe Company; tough, strong, built by hand, and full of entrepreneurial spirit. Just like the laces on a boot, tradition and heritage run through the veins of this community of 16,500 people," read the opening paragraph of Red Wing Downtown Main Street's application for the contest.

In early February, Deluxe narrowed the field to five. Red Wing was through to a two-week voting campaign along with Bristol Borough, Pa., Georgetown, S.C., Kingsburg, Calif., and North Adams, Mass.

The #MyRedWing voice grew louder.

"It was such a huge community effort," said Megan Tsui, executive director of Red Wing Downtown Main Street. "It grew to an international effort."

During the two weeks of voting, computer labs at Red Wing schools and the Public Library stayed open late for voters. Red Wing's sister city in Quzhou, China, with a population of over 2 million, helped spread the word and votes. #MyRedWing was on every street corner and on everyone's mind.

In the final days of voting, the lead bounced between Red Wing and Bristol Borough. The final tally revealed a razor thin second-place finish behind Bristol Borough.

"The good feelings from the Small Business Revolution are still very much alive in downtown Red Wing," Tsui said.

When travelling to other places in Minnesota, Tsui said she frequently gets asked about what Red Wing is doing to have such a strong downtown. She said other communities have visited Red Wing in the aftermath of the Small Business Revolution to understand the organizations and support the city has.

"People haven't stopped caring," Tsui said. "We've had more volunteers, more donations and more businesses contributing.

After Red Wing's runner-up finish in the Small Business Revolution's $500,000 revitalization contest, Tsui said hotel occupancy is up at least 10 percent and many downtown retailers and restaurants are reporting their best sales year ever.

Amanda Brinkman, the Deluxe Corporation's chief brand and communication officer, has been a familiar face in Red Wing. She served as the grand marshal of the Holiday Stroll parade this November.

"We use Red Wing as an example all the time in discussions about what we want the real impact of the Small Business Revolution to be," Brinkman said. "Even if your town doesn't win, there is a momentum and rallying that happens through the process of being selected for the Small Business Revolution — Main Street series and if you add fuel to that fire yourselves, your town will realize incredible benefits," Brinkman said.

#MyRedWing social media posts may not be as frequent as they were at the beginning of the year, but the hashtag's energy is still felt.

"We love how you have taken the spark that Deluxe brought here and made it your own," Brinkman said. "We will be watching and we cannot wait to see what is next for this incredible town."