Community Development’s Impact on Economic Development

Posted by on June 27, 2022

Today, I’d like to deviate a bit from traditional economic development. You’re likely already aware of the idea that strong communities and strong economies go hand-in-hand. But the community development side of that equation can oftentimes be a difficult concept to visualize because of its behind-the-scenes nature. One often overlooked aspect of community development is developing additional capacity within our local governments to deliver services. This is an area Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP) has begun to partner with local communities on and we’ve already seen some major successes that I’d like to share with you today.

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

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

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

RRC aside, 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 Ishpeming’s downtown to Marquette being one of three communities in the state selected to participate in the MiNextCities initiative and continued investment in our trail system and townships, we are seeing quality of life improvements which enhance the communities we already love and lead to further economic development. LSCP is working hard to stay updated on community development tools and programs that could benefit our communities and therefore our economic prosperity.

With that said, there’s more we can do. Recently, Marquette City Commissioners had to make a decision no official wants to make: raising taxes or cutting 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 necessary to create the types of places we love.

While the situation in the City of Marquette exists because of the unusual loss of multiple major tax-paying facilities – and the city has spent the last few years selling assets and cutting where they could – the truth is our municipal financing system is broken. Under the current model, local governments are limited in their ability to increase revenue during economic expansions and therefore have a difficult time preparing for inevitable downturns. The details are complex and beyond LSCP’s ability to fix directly, but it is important that we recognize the disconnect and work with our legislative partners toward a more sustainable model.

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

As always, please reach out with questions or just to chat about your needs. Every day I appreciate the opportunity to serve in this role. Thank you for your continued support of LSCP’s work.

By Christopher Germain, CEO. The LSCP writes a bi-weekly column for the Mining Journal.