I remember years ago, when I decided to stay here and pursue commercial/editorial photography, there wasn't a market and I had many people tell me to move where there was a market - at least to Syracuse. I didn’t listen and decided to make it work here.

It did and I am glad I got to stay in the city that I call home.

Utica has risen from the ashes of a post-industrial era to a new era that has afforded many people new opportunities. I remember the bustle of downtown in the 60's, and then lived through the bleakness of years after. I can tell you it feels so different to live here in Utica today. I am grateful to the community leaders who worked to drag Utica out of the past, like Tim Julian and Rob Palmieri, the progressive thinkers who bring big ideas to life, like Michelle McCarrick Truett and #MadeinUtica, and to the entrepreneurs who invested much money and sacrifice and started the trend to move small business downtown, like Tim Hardiman and Francis Pezzolanella.

Since the '70s I remember all the talking and planning to make downtown great again, but the arguments and discord between common councils and mayors set Utica back even further and ideas went nowhere. In the past 40 years, I've seen many people try to make Downtown Utica great again using old, stodgy ideas. But I have to take my hat off to Michelle Truett, who's marketing style and expertise made #DowntownUtica and #BaggsSquare hip and trendy again. I sometimes think that the great impact and significance of her contributions gets lost in the shuffle because of her lack of a glaring storefront or political title.

But the truth is, the work Michelle has done for the downtown effort, including the free marketing for local business owners, can not be measured. Michelle's next banner project pulls many business owners out from the shadows of anonymity where they will be displayed proudly along Genesee Street. Next time you see Michelle, thank her. It is well deserved and I believe she is one of the new Utica heroes.

 Nancy Ford owns Nancy L. Ford Photography, 52 Franklin Square, in downtown Utica.