Four Pillars of Rural Prosperity

By on January 17th, 2020

Many Up North are anxious to see what happens during Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s second year with the Michigan Legislature.  Last year was not good with unfilled promises because the two couldn’t work together.

They saw budget haggling that delayed and sometimes reduced or eliminated funding and programs badly needed in the rural areas. The governor’s major campaign promise to “Fix the Damn Roads” fizzled along with other infrastructure programs like replacing aging water and sewer systems and monies for higher education.

While still in existence, the Pure Michigan campaign is widely heralded as one of the best state tourism campaigns in America. However, its budget could get the axe, as it was among the state programs cut by the governor. Nothing has been done to remove the potential threat of pollution to the world’s largest body of fresh water by Enbridge’s aging Line #5 oil pipeline that runs through Great Lakes as it ships 540,000 barrels per day of crude oil and propane.

For the last decade, northern Michigan residents slowly learned the only way to compete for state funds and programs is to band together to change public policy and funding. Otherwise Detroit, Lansing, or Grand Rapids get the spoils because state public policy favors heavily populated areas often leaving rural Michigan in the dust.

Out of this, the partnership of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance was established based on the premise that many legislative issues impact northern Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas in similar ways, not always like urban areas. 

“We will aggressively address these issues regionally to maximize the political influence of this multi-county chamber alliance and its over 7,500 members,” says Kent Wood, the group’s Director of Government Relations.

“When deemed appropriate and in support of Chamber Alliance positions and recommendations, member advocacy and grassroots activities will be developed and promoted using this legislative agenda as a basis for taking a position on legislative policy.”

Last month, the 14-county chamber partnership sponsored a one-day “Northern Michigan Policy Conference” in Traverse City to identify the region’s needs by highlighting “rural-focused policies and provide to tools in the toolbox to address bottlenecks to economic diversity and stability in northern Michigan.”  They emphasize to state leaders and lawmakers that “one size does not fit all.”

Penny Lewandoswki, a speaker and principal at Changes of the Edges told the 150 participants that no single form of economic development is a panacea. 

“The magic found in balance,” she said. “It we want to keep jobs close to home, it’s time we become as good at growing companies as we are wooing them from greener zip codes. You must be patient and sustainable.”

The Alliance identified and has adopted what it calls “Four Pillars of Rural Prosperity”:

Rural Business Development—business incentive parity for different demographics of the state, rural research and development of state tax credits and addressing rural infrastructure including high-speed internet.

Attracting Talent to Rural Areas—Rural Internship or Apprenticeship Credit, Rural Relocation Tax Credit targeting out-of-state relocation and advance rural health care, education, and training interests.

Rural and Small City Housing Development—Incentives for rural employers who offset employee housing costs through news development, rehabilitation, vouchers, or down payment programs.

It also wants to see a rural Payment-In-Lieu of Taxes program for qualifying local units of government interested in incentivizing and promoting workforce housing and amending the MSHDA Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) to better address rural housing needs.

Access to Quality Childcare—Incentive options for employers to provide childcare on site or through multi-employer cooperatives, create an industry ombudsman to check compliance and regulatory inconsistencies across the state as well as increase technical assistance for new childcare providers.

As Governor Whitmer closed her first State of State address, “The question is: do we have the wisdom to put partisanship aside and get the job done for the people we serve?”

The Alliance will be watching from its Up North perch. 

Ken Winter

Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, teaches political science and journalism at North in Petoskey and Michigan State University.

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