Michelle McCabe is the Connecticut Main Street Center new executive director.
Fairfield resident Michelle McCabe, shown July 11, 2022, in the Connecticut Main Street Center’s office in Hartford, is the organization’s new executive director. Credit: Julie Martin Banks / CTNewsJunkie

Michelle McCabe, a Fairfield resident and new executive director of Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC), said she is looking forward to becoming an economic development tourist in her own state. Having started her new position just last week, McCabe said she plans on visiting every downtown in Connecticut.

“I love a good downtown,” McCabe said through a big smile during a recent interview at the organization’s Hartford office. “I do spend a lot of time visiting places in Connecticut, but obviously I am going to be doing it wearing a different hat and I am really excited for that.”

McCabe has stepped into the role previously held by Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker. She will lead the CMSC – which recently doubled its staff to a total of six employees – in its mission to help support the growth of Connecticut’s downtowns through education programs, technical assistance, and advocating for policies that assist municipalities with various initiatives such as mixed-use development.

“What I’m really excited about in particular with this position is not only is it looking at economic development – revitalization of downtowns – but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for me to be working in a field that touches on a lot of different things,” McCabe said.

In addition to workforce development training and small business development, McCabe said CMSC also focuses on the arts.

As a former candidate for political office – McCabe ran for the state Senate representing the 28th District – she talked to many voters and heard their concerns.

“I feel like downtowns are a wonderful nexis for community building, inclusion, civic engagement – all the things that are just so important,” McCabe said.

McCabe most recently served as interim executive director at HomeBridge Ventures, a Bridgeport-based nonprofit that works with formerly incarcerated individuals. It was there that McCabe found an opportunity to help an organization through a leadership position. 

“One of the things that we found, especially with formerly incarcerated individuals, is the impact of trauma. It shifts a person’s way of operating in the world and it doesn’t necessarily align with the way the world wants people to function,” she said. 

Prior to HomeBridge Ventures, McCabe served as the director of the FEED Center with The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. “When I started at that organization, there was no FEED center, so I was lucky to be able to build out this entire suite of programs that was all about utilizing food and other resources to allow for career growth and development for underemployed and unemployed people in the area.”

Ryan Bingham, CMSC’s incoming chair, said there were several candidates who were more than qualified for the job, but that McCabe’s nonprofit experience and passion for her work stood out.

“Michelle is somebody that has the passion, the energy, and the drive to move Connecticut forward,” Bingham said. “We’re just excited to have her on board. She’s already reaching out to community stakeholders, legislators, policy makers to try to make an impact and let them know that she’s there.”

McCabe said a municipality’s downtown is the beating heart of every community, and that CMSC helps support small businesses as well as arts and culture. The COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated a need to evaluate a downtown’s sustainability by having outdoor spaces and places for people to gather as the state continues to grapple with the impacts of the virus, she added.

McCabe said she plans to work with legislators as well as CMSC’s Main Street Working Group at the Connecticut General Assembly.

CMSC can help advocate for its members with state legislators, especially when it comes to any concerns they share, McCabe explained.

McCabe describes her approach as one of a macro thinker.

“I will take the boots on the ground information and efforts of my team and to be able to sort of blow it up to the macro, look at things that can end up as policy-level decision making that can assist the towns because every town is looking at what it needs to do every day,” McCabe said.

CMSC can help assist towns, especially when they see many are experiencing the same challenges.

“A lot of us, no matter where we’re working, are stretching our resources really thin. They need an organization like ours to be able to leverage what they’re doing, to be able to bring in additional resources, whether it’s financial or if it’s intellectual capital, and to be able to communicate what they need where it’s not just one town saying something,” McCabe said.