Redevelopment Ready Certification, is it worth it?

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC’s) not so new certification program, Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC), has been a point of contention amongst the economic development community in Michigan. While some simply have a hard time finding the time to go through the certification process, others simply do not think they should have to do it in order to access Community Development funds and other benefits. In my role as the Economic Development and Communications Director for the City of Oak Park, I jumped at the opportunity to become a Certified Redevelopment Ready Community.

758215fd-f2dd-4e3b-aedc-3cdeadf77178-originalWhile I know that many communities with a traditional downtown have always had access to MEDC’s grant programs, other suburban communities have not. Oak Park is an inner-ring suburb of Detroit with no traditional downtown and therefore no opportunity to apply for MEDC’s grant programs or to utilize Patronicity. While the choice to participate was an easy one for us, the program offers many more benefits to make it enticing for all to want to participate.

RRC helps to prepare communities so they can better attract and retain businesses, offer superior customer service, and have a streamlined development approval process. I know most communities do a good job, but we can all improve in some areas. Some of the other benefits include assistance in promoting your priority sites as well as technical assistance. Working with the RRC team was easy and they provided all the resources to help create the new policies, ordinances, etc. that are required for certification. I also found that other certified communities were more than willing to share their ideas.

I would encourage communities to conduct the assessment and then begin incorporating the Redevelopment Ready tools. Also, begin talking with your Planning Commission and City Council members to make sure they support your efforts. The support from them makes all the difference on the success of your community in making these changes. The RRC Program took time but we are already beginning to reap the benefits.


Making Connections for the Betterment of Our Community

Business development is a vital piece of the puzzle in creating vibrant, successful communities. There are several tools available for municipalities to use that create revenue streams to help finance economic investment, such as business retention visits, tax increment financing, brownfield redevelopment, tax abatements, and talent and training funding just to name a few. All are examples of the core strategies and instruments utilized by the City of Auburn Hills. Most of them are funded or authorized through our State legislature.

Part of my role in business development is engaging and interacting with our elected officials in Lansing. We continually have conversations about issues impacting business and investment at the local and regional levels. As a practitioner, I work on behalf of the City and its business community to advocate why funding these programs is so important. We often invite our elected officials from the State and Federal levels to visit companies so that they can witness firsthand the success of the tools we use on a daily basis.

Last week, State Representative Tim Greimel and State Senator Jim Marleau visited BorgWarner in Auburn Hills to talk about issues in Lansing and how they will impact areas like infrastructure, health care, and schools.

The budget process in Lansing is unclear at times, but it’s important to continue to reach out to elected officials so that they can assist us in achieving sustainable growth and development, which will ultimately bring improved quality of life for the residents of Auburn Hills. My role is to work with business leaders and City officials to make these worthwhile connections. As you can imagine, it’s an exciting and rewarding job.

Authored by: Stephanie Carroll, Manager of Business Development and Community Relations. Stephanie is MEDA’s Board Secretary and Emerging Leaders Committee Chair.

Stephanie blogs regularly at

Don’t be an Average Economic Developer, be a MEDA Member!

As community leaders, we are asked to be members of many different groups – professional organizations, fraternal orders, chambers of commerce and more. Each of these groups brings different benefits. Some provide networking opportunities, discounts, others provide easy access to a wide array of knowledge that would otherwise require hours of research.

726015D4-DEF2-43FE-80F3-8BD081DBCE4AThe Michigan Economic Developers Association (MEDA) provides all of this, and more! MEDA hosts three annual training seminars that keep Economic Development professionals at the top of their game. The Spring and Fall Toolbox seminars are excellent opportunities to learn about what is going on across the state and nation in economic development. Experts in different areas of practice lead deep dives and robust discussions of the subject matter to ensure that participants go back to their home community with knowledge that can be implemented right away.

MEDA’s Annual Meeting is two and a half days of knowledge and networking bliss.  Nationally relevant speakers, topics that have been vetted by members, and free evenings for meeting with colleagues from around the region are just a few of the many reasons that attending the Annual Meeting is an absolute must. Additionally, these events provide continuing education credits for nationally-recognized certifications from as The National Development Council (NDC) and The International Economic DeveNew Members 1lopment Council (IEDC).

Of course you do not have to be a member of MEDA to participate, but if you are planning on attending each event, then your membership discount would cover the cost of joining! Additionally, you would get the members’ only benefit of being able to anonymously (or not) poll fellow members about any topic in municipal management/economic development to help move your community forward. This is only the tip of the iceberg; check out for more awesome events and benefits.

Still not convinced of the benefits of membership? Consider this – MEDA is currently in the process of offering all of the courses needed to obtain the Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) certification through the IEDC. Courses are normally held in Lansing and MEDA members get a discount – convenient and economical!

If you’re not currently taking advantage of MEDA benefits, then take a second look, grab your discounts, get connected with colleagues, and use MEDA to help research your next project.

Authored by MEDA 2017 Board Secretary Khalfani Stephens, CEcD, EDFP, Director of Economic Development, City of Farmington Hills.

Holland Michigan: Beyond the MEDA Annual Meeting

holland tulips In January when the committee began planning for the MEDA Annual Meeting, our common goal was to ensure a meeting platform that fostered connection and relationship building. It was my pleasure to chair a committee with so many engaged and hard-working members who understand that successful economic development professionals seek peer connections and industry leaders to learn valuable information on how to build a strong organization and community. This conference will allow you to Connect with other economic development leaders from throughout the state.

Our community is excited to host this conference in Holland; a city known for its tulips, state and county parks, and voted the #1 small city to start a business by two years in a row. As the conference finishes around noon on Friday, I would invite you to extend your stay through weekend. Go from economic development professional to tourist in one of the best beach towns in the country. Stay through the weekend and bring your family to enjoy:

  • Vibrant arts and culture scene

Musicians, caricature artists, face painters, jugglers, magicians and even aerial acrobats are all a part of the street performer series each Thursday night, right downtown. At the edge of the town is the vast Windmill Island Gardens where you can tour a replica of the 14th century Wayside Inn and see the antique Dutch carousel which features hand-carved and painted wooden horses. You can find all about downtown Holland here. The farmers market at the end of 8th Street is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and reflects the agricultural abundance in our region and ethnic diversity of our residents.

  • Microbreweries and distilleries

New HollandCoppercraftBig LakeMacatawa Ale. Our alluring breweries expertly cater to distinguishing palates and some serve options only found in West Michigan.

  • Parks and beaches

Paddleboarding. Sand castle building. Sunset viewing. Sun bathing. Lake Michigan beckons with each wave and calms the soul. Sneak away to one of our state or county parks to refresh your soul and spend time with those you love. The new playground at Holland State Park was funded by the MEDC’s Patroncity program. You can find the complete list of county parks to visit here.

The MEDA annual meeting will be content- and connection-rich. Once you are done learning, go ahead relax and explore. For more information about the Holland region, click here.

Authored by MEDA’s 2017 Annual Meeting Committee Chair: Jennifer Owens, President, Lakeshore Advantage

Visit Michigan’s West Coast at the 2017 MEDA Annual Meeting

1497368704823-c0ng1pxsv8-d4339e1d3f562bfae411f84b92bf0e4fThis year’s annual MEDA conference will start with a bang and end just as strong.

Kicking off the event are Haworth’s CEO Franco Bianchi and Herman Miller’s CEO Brian Walker, both at the helm of separate world class office furniture manufacturing headquarters in the region.  They are speaking on finding better qualified employees, as well as an initiative they are co-leading to encourage employers to help local education systems understand employer needs in order to better prepare students for careers. Day two offers three excellent tours – a diverse range of unique developments on the lakeshore. These include:

Learn about the technology it takes to commercialize new specialty and bio-based chemicals, all while making them cost effective for the organizations manufacturing them. MSUBI has incorporated science, engineering, operational, and business expertise into their program to make them one of the top regional research and innovation resources, where commercialization is happening on the banks of Lake Macatawa in this facility that is also part of the Holland SmartZone.

West Michigan is known for our craft beer industry. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to tour one of our breweries and find learn about their impressive Brew on Site system which attributes to their industry’s success.

The Holland Energy Park is an international example of a municipal utility with a plan for the community’s future that includes baseline generation, beautifying the eastern gateway to downtown Holland and restoring wetlands. This brand new combined-cycled natural gas power plant is the only plant of its type to be built in the United States this year. Experience some of the latest energy production technology and how the Holland Board of Public Works is managing it. This tour has limited spots available; sign up soon.

The conference grand finale will include an exciting ignite session to provide ideas for you economic development strategy with key local, state and federal leaders. You will have the opportunity for one-on-one conversations to extend your network and gain valuable connections that will contribute to becoming a more effective economic development leader in your community.

To find out more details about the tours, read here. To register and find out more about the conference visit here.

Authored by MEDA’s 2017 Annual Meeting Committee Chair: Jennifer Owens, President, Lakeshore Advantage


By Amy Clickner, MEDA President and CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnershipios9-mail-app-icon-left-wrap

Relationships are critical to being successful in economic development. Whether it is with your business client, a prospect, legislators, your colleagues, coworkers or any stakeholder … the stronger the relationship, the smoother the process.

In order to build and strengthen these relationships, we must effectively communicate with each stakeholder group. So in the age of technology, where abbreviated responses and instant answers are required, how do make sure we as practitioners are communicating in a way that meets our relationship goals? With as many as three generations in the workplace, are we taking into consideration how each of our stakeholders best processes the information we provide?

In our office, we talk about this often and have created some basic guidelines to help use the appropriate method of communications. Below are some tips you may want to consider.

Most businesses utilize email, whether it is for communicating with clients, co-workers or both. It is a convenient way to pass along information, questions, documents, photos and more. While it is extremely convenient, it is not always the best form of communication.

When NOT to use email:

  • If you need an immediate answer, call, don’t email. Not everyone checks their email continuously throughout the day.
  • Avoid emailing to cancel last minute plans. Again, not everyone always has email access, speaking with them directly to ensure they received the message is important.
  • Do not send an email when discussing a complex, lengthy or confusing topic. It is best to call and explain and maybe follow up with an email summarizing afterward.
  • If you are sending an email to avoid having the conversation face-to-face, that is a sure sign that it is a message that should not be conveyed via email.

When utilizing email, especially in a professional setting, there is simple etiquette that should be followed. These guidelines can help keep your email organized and cut back on unnecessary messages.

  • The subject line should reflect what the email is actually about. If you’re starting a new “conversation” in an email or have more than one topic to discuss, start a new email with an appropriate subject line. This will help the receiver keep track of the information and be able to scan subject lines to refer back later.
  • “To” vs. “CC” vs. “BCC”
    • The recipients you include in the “To” line are the people you want to read the email and respond
    • The recipients included in the “CC” line are receiving the email as an FYI or to be kept in the loop and don’t need to take action
    • The recipients included in the “BCC” line are not visible to others. This should be used sparingly. “BCC” is a great way to protect the email addresses of those you’re emailing to or keep an email shorter if you’re sending to a very large group, but should not be used to secretly include someone on an email.
  • Reply vs. Reply All
    • Reply All when the conversation involves everyone
      • e. – A sends an email to B, C and D asking if someone can complete a project, C should reply all saying it is taken care of so A, B and D know it is done and can delete the email.
    • Reply when your answer only impacts the person sending the email
      • e. – A sends an email to B, C and D asking what everyone wants for lunch, C should reply only with their lunch order so they don’t clutter B and D’s email.
    • Reply with all of your thoughts in one email. Emails don’t need to be replied to within seconds of receiving, take some time to gather your thoughts so you can send your response all at once.
    • When responding to an email that is disconcerting or upsetting, do not hit send for at least an hour, re-read with a clear head and new perspective.
    • Read your email (including the email “To,” “CC” and “BCC” line and subject line) before you hit send. This is your last chance to correct mistakes and make sure you did not accidently include someone who should not be in the email.
    • Be professional! Use the person’s name, use proper grammar and punctuation and sign the email. Leave your texting abbreviations for communicating with your teen!

One last tip – if you work at a desk and have your email open all day, it can be tempting to click over every time you get that pop-up or hear that “ding.” The best thing to do is disable the pop-up and turn off the sound. This way you can schedule two or three times a day to follow-up on emails and you are not distracted from other work with each email that comes in. No one should expect an immediate reply to an email, if you reply within 24 hours that should be sufficient.

There are always exceptions to these “rules,” but they should help keep you organized, looking professional and the recipients of your email should appreciate your etiquette as well. This all goes a long way to building a positive relationship with all your stakeholders.

After 10 years….the MEDA Annual Conference says, HELLO DETROIT!

detroitIf you didn’t attend this year’s MEDA Annual Meeting in Downtown Detroit, you missed out! Detroit is on a comeback, driven in partnership by some of its large corporations and local businesses with a belief in the city’s future.

According to the Detroit Regional Chamber, there has been at least $3.4 billion in investment and development announced in the city, since 2013; including 125 new restaurants and retail establishments that have recently opened. Overall, there are 378 restaurants in the city, and residential rental units in both downtown and midtown Detroit were nearly 100% fully occupied between 2013 and 2014. During the MEDA tours, there was evidence of a lot of economic opportunity, showing people are coming into the city to work, live and play; creating a vibe that was infectious and inviting. To further accelerate the process of turning downtown Detroit into a live, work, play hub that can draw in people from the outskirts of the city and suburbs, the implementation of a light rail project known as the QLINE financed by the private sector, is expected to be operational Spring 2017.

Additionally, two recent big projects include Amazon‘s announcement last fall to unveil a new corporate office and technology hub in the City in 2016, and the new Nike retail store. What’s more, since 2009 nearly 227,000 private-sector jobs have been added through the end of 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The MEDA tours showcased how obvious Detroit has come in the past few years due to a coordinated development effort, largely led by the private sector. What’s important to understand is it wasn’t one building or so-called impact project this time around, unlike past efforts to revitalize the downtown. This time, it highlights a strategic approach involving many buildings with an intent to connect them with a network of public and semi-public spaces where everything works together to reveal the unique character of downtown Detroit and transform it.

If you haven’t been to downtown Detroit lately, I encourage you to come explore and experience a different Detroit…I know you will be pleasantly surprised!

Monique Holliday-Bettie, Economic Development Manger, DTE Energy is the MEDA Board Secretary in 2016.

Do you know your local economic development team?

Knowing and utilizing your local economic development team can be the boost needed to complete your projects.

Both community and local businesses play an important role in the quality of life offered in a particular area. When the well-being and quality of life for a community is combined with the support of businesses that create and/or retain local base jobs, the result is economic development. Economic development is multifaceted, and its success is driven by the combination of community and business development activities that affect and improve the community as a whole. The most successful examples take a team approach with many agencies and organizations working together to share expertise and resources.

The center of the economic development team is very often the local economic development organization (EDO). EDO’s can take on many shapes and sizes, but are primarily identified by their experience, expertise and contacts with the many agencies and organizations that support communities and businesses. One important area of expertise your local EDO provides is the ability to identify potential grant funding opportunities. These grant opportunities are often the most critical component to a project’s feasibility. Experienced EDO staff can provide grant application and administering support to see economic development projects through from concept to completion.

An example of a successful EDO in Northern Michigan is Michigan State University Extension partner, Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA). Established in 1984, NLEA has a long record of providing economic development support to a variety of both public and private organizations. There are numerous economic development organizations throughout the state of Michigan that can assist your community and business. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) hosts a comprehensive list of these organizations on their website.

Michigan State University Extension has had a unique relationship with the regional economic development organizationNorthern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, the NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension as it provides leadership to state-wide programs sponsored by MSUExtension.”

Make your way to MEDA’s Annual Meeting!

By Ara Topouzian
Michigan Economic Developers Association Board of Directors Secretary
President and Chief Executive Officer, Troy Chamber of Commerce

For several years, I have enjoyed volunteering on the MEDA Annual Meeting committee. I have moderated, lectured, and even chaired the event.

This year, I am co-chairing the Annual Meeting with my friend Maureen Krauss, Detroit Regional Chamber. This year, we exceeded (broke records!) the budget for sponsorship, which tells us that we are on the right path for the content and theme for this year’s event, held in Detroit.

The theme is RetoolED. It will take place from August 23-26, 2016 and headquartered at the historic Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit.

Much has been written about Detroit since its bankruptcy and how it is on the rebound and continues to redevelop itself to become the “cool place” to be part of once again. I have found it absolutely amazing the number of small business and start-up companies that have jumped in and created successful ventures within the city of Detroit. The entertainment and restaurant options alone have doubled just in a few short years and we are seeing the true entrepreneurial spirit occurring in Detroit. In addition, we have recently secured the city’s mayor Mike Duggan as one of our speakers!

It was natural to develop a theme for economic developers which addresses how we rebrand and re-invite as the economy gets better in Michigan.

Some of the topics will address:

Repurposing Small Buildings

Given the fluid nature of small businesses, whether it be through merger or failure, a lot of small buildings are left with FOR SALE or RENT signs in their windows in towns, cities and villages. More often, communities are left trying to find tenants without making changes that will compromise local heritage. Hear some experiences and learn some good practices for the adaptive reuse of small buildings.

Rethinking Funding

This session will cover strategies for funding economic development. The speaker, who has years of experience in working with large and small communities, will delve into best practices for running a successful campaign, how to develop a long-term strategy for sustainable funding, and how to implement that strategy with tips on maintaining relationships with your investors.

Rethinking Your Region

Now that region-based economic development is an established strategy, there are any examples of success from around the country. This session will give you new ideas for taking advantage of your regional program.

Regrowing Your Knowledge of Agriculture in Economic Development

Michigan agriculture supports over $100 billion of economic activity every year and accounts for about 22% of the state’s employment. The diversity of our agriculture industry is second only to California, with more than 300 commodities produced on a commercial basis. Michigan is home to more than 50,000 farms, most owned by families or individuals, as well as many Fortune 500 food companies. With all this activity, what should local and regional economic developers focus on to leverage these opportunities to create growth in their communities. This session will offer both a state and local perspective on those opportunities and what can be done by economic developers to understand and partner with the agriculture community.

Besides the educational sessions, the Annual Meeting is one of the few opportunities for members to network and grow on those relationships. One of the ways we will look to enhance the networking this year by having a pub crawl Wednesday night and we have several walking and bike tours of some of the “watering holes,” both new and historic, near the hotel.

I hope to see you at the Annual Meeting – this year promises to be one of the best we have had in several years! Click here for more information or to register.

What is Economic Development, Exactly?

by Karl Dorshimer
Director, Business Development
Lansing Economic Area Partnership
Board Member, Michigan Economic Developers Association

Having been an Economic Developer for over 20 years, I still struggle sometimes to explain what Economic Development is. It has been even more difficult since the profession itself has been changing over time and broadening in scope. More recently, Economic Development, and by association Economic Developers, have encountered criticism questioning the legitimacy of what they do and whether it is really in the public’s best interest. Budget shortfalls and the misunderstanding of how Economic Development Incentives work have led to attempts to cut funding for Economic Development Programs.

MEDA and the MEDA Advocacy Committee have stepped up to define and defend the field and the good work that Economic Development Professionals do throughout Michigan. MEDA is unified in describing Economic Development as attracting and growing businesses, creating and retaining jobs, and making our communities a better place to live. In a nutshell Economic Development creates prosperity for the citizens of our communities. Furthermore, Economic Developers are professionals within a community that use various tools to stimulate economic growth while maximizing the best interests of the entire community and finding mutually beneficial solutions for all parties concerned. Economic Developers help local officials and businesses to work together for community progress.

Attracting and growing businesses strengthens our economy providing locally produced goods and services. Strong businesses pay taxes that go for vital services such as schools, roads, fire and police. Businesses also provide good jobs that put money in people’s pockets and allow for a higher quality of life. Economic Development has a major impact on the places where we live, work and play. Putting vacant or abandoned buildings and land back into productive use is a major function of economic development. This helps keep businesses located in urban areas where sewer, water and other services are already present.

Economic development retains and attracts talented people. Communities that provide quality jobs and great places to live and work are a magnet for folks of all ages. As a result, these places have a strong future. Economic development also fosters the entrepreneurial spirit that resides in our creative and ambitious citizens. By providing access to ideas, investment and expert advice new companies can be created to help assure Michigan’s economy stays innovative and diverse.

So the next time that you have the opportunity to speak up on behalf of Economic Development or Economic Developers, go ahead and jump into the conversation with the confidence that investing in economic development is good for everyone.