Economic Development: A total team effort

There’s been a significant buzz in the local media in recent weeks on the efforts of area students to participate in the outer space program, including several related to the International Space Station. It’s an amazing accomplishment given the extensive coordination required among numerous private and public organizations to take such initiatives literally to the edge of our society’s final frontier.

Parallels can be drawn to the Grand Traverse region’s emerging economic development efforts. Effective and impactful economic development doesn’t happen by accident nor in a vacuum. It requires widespread cooperation, buy-in and resources from private and public partners, working toward definable and attainable goals girded by community input and support. There are many moving parts and critical cogs to a comprehensive regional economic development strategy that all need to mesh for optimum results.

That’s why the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and its partners at the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance put so much time and energy into legislative advocacy efforts. A sound regulatory framework at local, state and even national levels is an important component to economic growth and regional sustainability. The chamber’s Four Pillars of Rural Prosperity legislative agenda for 2019-20 specifically targets several regional bottlenecks standing in the way of improved economic stability and diversity for northern Michigan, including:

  • Rural business development that includes state business incentives for rural areas similar to programs offered in larger communities. We’re advocating for research and development tax credit programs specific to rural areas, and rural income tax credits to incentivize new jobs and investment in emerging rural industries. Rural infrastructure is also a priority, including high-speed internet, sustainable brownfield programs for smaller communities and sufficient funding for roads and utilities.
  • Talent attraction to rural areas needed to expand our regional economy. The local business sector is seeking top professional and skilled employees who can be attracted through various tools including intern/apprentice tax credits and rural relocation incentives to draw in talent from other states and beyond. We also need to bolster our rural education and training programs, and improve our rural health care systems as a key critical recruitment tool for bringing professionals and skilled workers to the region.
  • Rural and small city housing development including incentives for rural employers to offset housing costs through new development, building rehabilitation, vouchers or down payments programs. PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs currently available in larger cities are needed for local governments in smaller communities to incentivize and promote workforce housing. Refining Michigan State Housing Development Authority regulations offer potential solutions for more rural housing development, and improved state and local building and zoning codes to reduce regulatory barriers to workforce housing.
  • Access to quality child care needed by families to help them fully integrate into our workforce. The chamber supports incentive options for employer-based child care or multi-employer cooperatives. Provider-child ratios in state child care regulations need to be addressed, along with increased technical assistance for new child care providers and resolving compliance and regulatory inconsistencies.


Making progress on any or all of these complex – but solvable – challenges would help build a solid foundation for a sustainable economic development strategy for today and for generations to come. As our area’s young scientists, engineers and astronauts of tomorrow have already demonstrated, the potential for our region’s economic prosperity extends to the four corners of the globe and beyond.

Warren Call is the president and CEO of TraverseCONNECT, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North. Contact Warren at