Partnership News & Views: The Impact of Community Development on Economic Development | News, Sports, Jobs

Christopher Germain

Today, I would like to depart a little from traditional economic development. You are probably already familiar with the idea that strong communities and strong economies go hand in hand. But the community development side of this equation can often be a difficult concept to visualize due to its behind-the-scenes nature. An often overlooked aspect of community development is building additional capacity within our local governments to deliver services. This is an area where the Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP) has begun to partner with local communities and we have already seen some major successes which I would like to share with you today.

On June 15, LSCP Economic and Community Development Specialist Elle Jansen helped organize a joint meeting with Ishpeming City Council, the Planning Commission and the City Center Development Authority ( DDA). It was the first known joint meeting between these councils and the impact was immediate; the City is already planning the next one and hopes to make it a regular event.

The joint meeting grew out of an innovative partnership between the City of Ishpeming and the LSCP, signed earlier this year. We hope Ishpeming is one of many communities in Marquette County to consider working with the LSCP on community development issues. Through this contract, the LSCP is providing support to better communicate information with city stakeholders, develop a blight management strategy to address unsafe properties, improve its board and commission procedures, and more. One of the main goals is to make progress in obtaining Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) certification as a Redevelopment Ready Community (RRC).

Marquette County communities are no strangers to RRC. Prior to my time at LSCP, I worked with the MEDC team representing RRC in the Upper Peninsula, including Ishpeming, Marquette, Michigamme Township and Negaunee, and had conversations with several other localities. The goal of the program is simple: to help communities establish a vision for the future and put in place the tools and processes needed to get there. While the town of Marquette received certification in 2021, I expect we will be celebrating certifications in Ishpeming, Michigamme and Negaunee this year or next.

Aside from RRC, Marquette County communities have a lot to celebrate on the community development front. From Negaunee’s successful crowdfunding campaign for Jackson Mine Playground and new investments in downtown Ishpeming, to Marquette being one of three communities in the state selected to participate in the MiNextCities initiative and the ith continued investment in our trail system and townships, we see quality of life improvements that enhance the communities we already love and lead to further economic development. The LSCP works hard to stay up to date on community development tools and programs that could benefit our communities and therefore our economic prosperity.

That said, we can do more. Recently, Marquette town commissioners had to make a decision that no official wants to make: raise taxes or cut services. While low-tax environments help keep more money in the pockets of our residents and businesses, communities need funds to provide public safety, infrastructure and other public services are needed to create the types of places we love.

Although the situation in the town of Marquette exists due to the unusual loss of several major tax-paying facilities – and the town has spent the last few years selling assets and cutting where it can – the truth is that our municipal financing system is broken. Under the current model, local governments are limited in their ability to raise revenues during periods of economic expansion and therefore struggle to prepare for the inevitable downturns. The details are complex and beyond the ability of the LSCP to resolve directly, but it is important that we recognize the disconnect and work with our legislative partners towards a more sustainable model.

In addition to community development initiatives, the LSCP will continue its core services that support our local businesses, from business plan support and succession planning to retention visits and other technical supports. If you read the news today, you will hear nothing but pessimism for the economy. And while we face challenges, Marquette County is strong, and the LSCP stands ready to assist all of our partners, stakeholders, and investors, whether they are businesses, communities, or community organizations. Challenging times mean that the LSCP team and our other economic development partners will step forward and work harder than ever to overcome the obstacles that arise.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or simply to discuss your requirements. Every day, I appreciate the opportunity to serve in this role. Thank you for your continued support of the work of the LSCP.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christopher Germain is CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership.

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