Local economy ‘better than it was’ a year ago
By DEB WUETHRICH
The Lenawee Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) held an Advisory Council Network Meeting at Siena Heights University on Wed., April 18, with representatives present from area government entities, educational institutions and businesses. The day presented opportunities to share challenges and success stories as well as partnership experiences with the LEDC.
The LEDC was restructured following a failed millage vote last year and reduced its board of directors to 11 individuals and asked others who had served to become part of a newly formed Advisory Council which meets at least twice a year.
“We believe that county vote was not a vote against jobs in this county, but a vote against increased taxes,” said LEDC Board Chair Doug Kapnick. He said the only LEDC staff that was retained was Tim Robinson, Director of Operations, and Jim Van Doren was hired as the new executive director.
“We trimmed the budget from $600,000 down to $300,000 and refocused on where we were going,” said Kapnick. “The focus is jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s what we’re interested in, and that’s what we’re about. And I’m here to tell you that the LEDC is alive and well and doing a great job. The new governance seems to be working very well.”
In addition to Kapnick, those serving on the 11-member board are: David Hickman, Paul Heidbreder, Rick Gurdjian, Dave Maxwell, Tim Jakacki, Kathryn Moore, Steve Krusich, Jim Philp, Barb Mitzel and Joe Williams.
Van Doren said the Advisory Council Network meetings were a way to work together with other community stakeholders.
“The LEDC is working closely with local units to avoid duplication,” he said, adding that the LEDC’s major focus has not changed — it’s still jobs, whether attracting new or retaining existing jobs.
“We’re the county liaison to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and still administrate the Business Revolving Loan Fund and Brownfield Development Authority,” he said, among other roles. “When we reorganized, we got together with all our partners and asked three questions: How do you see the LEDC in relation to everyone else? What are our objectives, what should we be doing vs. what you’re doing? and, What is your job vision for Lenawee County?”
Van Doren said that the local response helped the LEDC form its vision of the type of businesses and jobs people desire to attract to Lenawee County to include manufacturers with a skilled workforce; agricultural businesses in the farm to factory and food industries; technology related businesses; and small to medium-sized manufacturers, green or greenway related.
“These are the areas we’re concentrating on in attracting new business to the county,” said Van Doren.
Robinson reported that the LEDC has administered six loans through the Revolving Loan Fund this past year totaling $1.7 million, with companies committing 97 new jobs. He said 2011 successes, with the LEDC working with local economic development groups, included 229 estimated new jobs and 286 retained jobs for Lenawee County and involved relationships with companies that included Tecumseh firms Glycon, TTP Tech GLOV Enterprises, Ervin Technology, and Lenawee Stamping.
Tecumseh City Manager Kevin Welch and Economic Development Director Paula Holtz joined representatives from other communities in sharing experiences about their local communities.
“We think economic development is extremely important,” said Welch, “and we think our relationship with the LEDC is better than it’s ever been. We don’t really feel like we have to have regular meetings because we talk all the time.”
Welch said that Tecumseh is facing some of the same situations as Dane Nelson outlined as Adrian City Administrator, such as elimination of personal property and cuts in revenue sharing.
“We’ve had to do a lot of things differently and we’re down 21 or 22 percent on full-time employees, and our general fund revenue went from approximately $6.2 million down to about $4.6 million,” he said. Some of the changes, designed not to impact service levels, he said, are a credit to the city’s department heads and employees, along with the support of the elected officials.
“They understand the big picture and give us the latitude to do the things we need to do, things like public art, theater events and other activities,” he said. “Somebody said this is a great county to live in, work in and start a business in, and I’m amazed by how many phone calls we get from other communities asking how we do certain things. That means we’re hitting some targets and people are noticing what we’re trying to do.”
Holtz reported to the group that Tecumseh’s economic development news is definitely better than it was a year or so ago, and cited such success stories as Lenawee Stamping running strong with 580 jobs, Glycon’s expansion, and others.
“It’s just a joy to go on retention visits,” said Holtz. She also mentioned the city’s new Dog House restaurant, how JR’s Hometown Grill and Pub had refurbished a building that had been vacant for five years, and the launch of the new AJ Smith Recreation Center due to a $2 million gift from the Lenawee Community Foundation.
“What an opportunity to add to the quality of life in Tecumseh,” she said. Holtz said that 16 new sculptures will be arriving in the city next week for the fifth year of the Art Trail Tecumseh project and noted that she was a firm believer in what the project has done to attract interest in the community. Adrian Mayor Greg DuMars announced that Adrian is also beginning an art initiative with downtown sculptures.
Larry Gormezano of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation was also on hand to talk about redistricting and the governor’s Nine-point plan of reinventing Michigan. He said with the MEGA tax credit gone, the MEDC is working to offer new tools as incentives for businesses. He added that the Pure Michigan brand is now being used in business as well as tourism.
“It seems to be sticking,” said Gormezano. “Reinvention is underway in Michigan. There’s a lot of optimism in the state.”
The LEDC is scheduled to hold another Advisory Council Network Meeting on Nov. 7.