2018-09-13 / Front Page

City holds first economic development strategy meeting

By Paula K. Schmidt
810-452-2647 • pschmidt@mihomepaper.com

GRAND BLANC — A concentrated effort to improve the ease of economic development is underway in the city, following the first meeting of the Economic Development Strategy Committee held last week.

They were assisted by Justin Sprague, Vice President of CIB Planning, and Christian Germain of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)—who also serves as the city’s consultant in the Re-development Ready Community (RRC)process which has been ongoing for about a year now.

Also on the committee are city councilmember Jamie Weasel, Mayor Susan Soderstrom, Downtown Development Authority member Terry Stanfill, City Manager, Wendy Jean-Buhrer, Planning Commissioner Don Becker, and Adam Martin, owner of Martin Funeral Homes. Sprague led the group through an exercise of what they saw as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to economic development (ED).

Sprague explained the city’s recently updated master plan will go a long way toward being the foundation of their strategy, and ED will be the driver of some of what is in the master plan. He expects the committee’s process to take about six months. He defined ED as “new investment in the community which can either generate increased revenue or grow the tax base.

That would be good news for the city as three years ago, a change to the State of Michigan property tax structure, resulted in a million-dollar loss in revenue. The committee listed numerous items which are a positive, not the least of which was the often mentioned school system, including local colleges.

Other amenities were the connection to local highways, a great water system, parks, a ‘real’ downtown, good roads and sidewalks, and walkability. Also the active DDA, a wide variety of housing, a number of long established businesses in the community, which indicate sustainability for others.

Weakness included land, being less than four square miles, meaning only having vacant land to build on, converting unused properties or building upwards. Also the pass-through nature of S. Saginaw and dead end roads such as Center, which affect traffic flow and finding your way around.

Some felt lack of uniformity of buildings wasn’t a plus and absentee landlords who won't actively pursue marketing or sale of their properties. Weasel mentioned they don’t have a specific focal point such as a historic downtown and Jean-Buhrer reiterated the status of the DDA being a ‘negative capture’ or not having revenue at this time.

Parking too was mentioned and Sprague explained studies show even though people typically park farther away at a big box store, when not parking in line of sight of a destination, people often perceive it as being farther to walk.

Some of the negatives were also seen as opportunities to change things, which will be discussed, as well as marketing and branding the city. Threats were seen as possibly the Dort Hwy. extension, but it is also seen as possibly improving traffic flow.

The public perception of development is often a mixed bag of people who want to keep a small town ‘flavor’ versus those who want things to do and restaurants to eat at— and finding the balance between bedroom community or being a destination was a topic of discussion.

Parking, in the form of city regulations was also noted as being difficult, but Becker said they have been flexible about it with recent site plans.

The committee will meet the first Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. at least through January. The city has the potential to be the first RRC in Genesee County, and possibly in the MEDC’s Region Six. Soderstrom gave Jean-Buhrer credit for that as she initiated the process and has been actively working to achieve the highly valued certification. More about it can be found at: https://www.miplace.org/communities/rrc/

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