Region lands “Next Michigan” status… but what does it really mean?

REGION – Recently, the Grand Traverse region was named a Next Michigan community. It's one of only five in the state and the only area north of the 43rd parallel chosen by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Other areas include Wayne/Washtenaw counties, Lansing, and the I-69 corridor between Flint and Port Huron.

Initially, when Gov. Granholm signed the program into law in 2010, it was designed to help the Detroit Metro Airport and downstate businesses create jobs.

The program lets communities choose two types of transportation to improve in order to lure new businesses and strengthen existing ones. Local officials have decided to focus their efforts on roads and the Cherry Capital Airport.

"We have an excellent airport that has positioned itself to maximize the exposure of local businesses to the global market," says Grand Traverse County Planning Director John Sych. "We also need to improve our road system so that goods can be shipped easily out of the region."

The designation also allows Grand Traverse County, the City of Traverse City, Garfield Charter Township, East Bay Charter Township and Blair Township to create a Next Michigan Development Corporation for this area.

According to Sych, the communities in these areas won't get any state grants, but they will be able to use Renaissance Zone tax-free statuses, property tax abatements, local development financing and streamlined business regulations to improve importing and exporting from northern Michigan. The goal is to have the incentives up and running within the next six months.

"Residents may see local businesses building additions, new jobs being advertised, new businesses coming into the area, road improvements, and increased cargo activity at the airport," Sych says.

"The airport's primary focus will be on freight companies like FedEx and UPS," Cherry Capital Airport Director Kevin Klein says. "Air freight is heavily used by our medical industry and this opportunity will promote those services."

The program will also allow new and current businesses that need aviation facilities, like hangars, to be able to finance these types of opportunities, he adds.

Partnerships

The Next Michigan designation couldn't have been achieved without the partnership of Cherry Capital Airport, Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, Traverse City Downtown Development Authority and the Grand Traverse County Economic Development Corporation.

The Chamber's initial role was to bring the local governments together. But now, it's taking the lead on the business-side of the program.

"Our role will be to help businesses understand the opportunities they might have under the Next Michigan incentives and work with the local officials to help those businesses achieve the growth goals they have," said the Chamber's Vice President of Government Relations and Business Advocacy Doug DeYoung. "We will also be able to work with businesses looking to relocate or grow in the region in a one-stop-shop atmosphere."

How it works

In order to qualify for help from Next Michigan, businesses must use at least two transportation modes to ship goods out of or import raw materials into the Grand Traverse region. The four possibilities include: road, air, rail and water.

Vice President of Lifelong and Professional Learning Marguerite Cotto says the program must be a team effort in order to succeed.

"Our region has been awarded the designation because we've demonstrated our capacity for agility and cooperation," she says, "and to encourage us to use new economic development tools in smarter ways on behalf of the quality of life of our communities."

Sych agrees, and predicts cooperation is what will set the GT region apart from other areas of the state. "Most communities struggle with these types of efforts, but for this community it was very smooth because we have a tradition of working together."

NMC officials are looking forward to contributing to Next Michigan efforts via training and education, Cotto notes. "We have also been investing in the Aero Park campus (home of the Aero Park Laboratories and Energy Demonstration Center, automotive tech, aviation, and advanced manufacturing) to ensure we can support a new generation of activity." BN

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