How Facebook Can Be An Economic Developer’s Best Friend

Picture2As we all know, social media is extremely powerful, and can be used for both very good (and very bad) purposes. I must say that I resisted it for many years, and only relented when my Vice President Brent Jones recommended we create a Facebook page to promote our organization (the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership)’s activities. In order to get followers, I found it best to create my own personal page, add friends, and then recommended they follow us. Little did I know that what began as a few posts here and there would turn into one of our most important communication tools, directly reaching over 2,300 friends. My goal for this month’s MEDA blog is to give you a few thoughts on how you can utilize your Facebook successfully in your own economic development efforts.

Communicating Value
One of the biggest challenges economic developers face is demonstrating value to their stakeholders (board members, funders, government and business leaders, public at large). You not only have to do good work, but also have to communicate it. A constant flow of quick stories about what you do helps build an impression over time that you are tirelessly striving to improve your local economy, which brings you lots of credibility. It also creates a more positive perception of your community in general, which can in turn increase resident and existing business confidence in the area, and also serve as a resource to attract new investment.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
This is something that I didn’t expect when I started, but quickly found out that Facebook is the single most impactful tool to connect people with jobs. As we all know, the communication of employment opportunities has become more fragmented (you no longer just look in the help wanted section of the newspaper). With pretty much everyone on Facebook, and the ability to share posts with your network, the exposure of job postings mushrooms very quickly to reach more people than any other form of media. Given the tight labor market, we are finding it effective right now in engaging with our commuter population (70% of our residents leave the county for work every day), who are not actively looking for a job but are intrigued about the possibility of finding something closer to home (particularly when facing this winter weather).

Balance The Personal With The Professional
This one is tricky, and probably the biggest reason why some of my peers don’t want to mix the two. Personally, I think it is valuable for people to see that you are not only passionate and driven with your career, but can also have fun too (like me with University of Michigan athletics – Go Blue!). That being said, I try very hard to avoid anything controversial that doesn’t relate directly to my job. I also strive to ensure pretty much everything has a positive, uplifting tone to it (except when my Wolverines lose L).

If you would like to discuss further, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook!


Justin Horvath, CEcD
Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership
Ph: (989) 725-9241

Justin is the 2018 Board Treasurer for the Michigan Economic Developers Association.


Who Are You? A DNA Test for Municipalities

Question MarkWe hear a lot today about ancestry testing and finding out about our heritage. Many of us want to know “who we really are.” While these tests can be fun, they can also tell us a lot about ourselves that we thought we knew but had all wrong. For instance, we may know that our ancestors emigrated from a specific country, and claim that as our heritage, but with the help of these tests, we may learn that said ancestor only briefly lived in the “country of origin” and our actual roots lie elsewhere. The test may not change some of the facts we already know; it just gave us a different way to look at them.

Today I want to talk about a DNA test for municipal units – NAICS. The North American Industry Classification System is a great way to take a new look at your community. Just like the DNA tests described above, it can tell you so much on many different levels. At the broadest level, the two digit code, you can learn what industries in general are represented in your community. You may ask, “Why is this important? I know my companies and what industries they are in” – but do you? You may have a broad thought in your head such as automotive or even supplier; but did you know that there is no category “automotive” in NAICS? Did you know that what you considered an automotive supplier could be classified as a wholesaler? This is a new way of understanding your business community and the types of companies who may find your community attractive. Now you have opened a potential pathway to new markets and opportunities to improve your tax base.

Digging deeper into the code at the three digit level allows you to get a little more specific and go from retail trade to motor parts supplier. At the four digit level, you can find that “automotive” label, but it won’t be stand alone. It will come with something like automotive parts dealer. You can get a list of NAICS classifications for your community through a database such as Hoovers. Your local librarian should be able to help you with that effort if you do not already subscribe to one.

I encourage you to take the leap and find out “who you are” with your NAICS test.

Authored by Khalfani Stephens, Director of Economic Development, City of Farmington Hills, and 2018 MEDA Board Vice President.

Economic Development is Community Development

Times are good for most people right now with memories of the great recession fading fast, but for economic developers, today is the time to “make hay while the sun shines”.

Good times have their own set of challenges, but they also provide great opportunities.   The first is that of workforce development. I remember not too many years ago when the rallying cry was “Workforce Development is Economic Development”. While it still rings true today, and there are good jobs being created in most communities, employers are having difficulty filling them and retaining workers. This is a complex issue that involves wage rates, education, skills, mobility of workers, lifestyle choices, costs of living, and many more factors. Economic developers need to work with employers and other organizations to create holistic and custom solutions that allow local people to move up the economic ladder into these higher paying jobs.

buildings-set_23-2147505271Additionally, an improving economy is creating labor shortages in the construction industry and a high demand for construction materials. This, along with rising interest rates, is pushing development costs upward. These higher costs lead to project financing gaps, which causes the private sector to ask communities for economic development.

But, in these good times, should communities agree to approve economic incentives? The answer is yes, but only if it is in the best interest of the community by taking advantage of the today’s strong economy to forge a better future for everyone. Most communities are no longer in a state of desperation where generous incentives are necessary just to attract private investment of any kind. Instead, Economic Developers can now seek to facilitate development agreements between communities, businesses, and developers that share the costs and benefits of development. Jobs, income, investment, tax revenue, business spending, infrastructure, education, training, etc., all are part of the mix and should be considered in making public decisions to approve private development incentives.

Now is the best time to for Economic Development Professionals to work with communities and businesses to demonstrate to all that Economic Development is Community Development.

Authored by: Karl Dorshimer, CEcD, EDFP, Director of Economic Development, Lansing Economic Area Partnership, and 2017 MEDA Board Treasurer

OppSites – A Great Tool for Any Economic Developer

I wanted to share a great tool with my fellow Economic Developers that is easy to use and very helpful. It is called OppSites. The mission of OppSites is to “connect the people who are involved in building and rebuilding our cities.”

While the company launched its product in 2014, I was not introduced to it until the ICSC ReCon conference in 2016. The company provided a free webinar and encouraged everyone to use the “FREE” tool. With nothing to lose, I gave it a try and I am happy to report it was a great decision. It has helped me to promote some of my redevelopment sites to developers that I would never have been able to connect with otherwise and, better yet, promote difficult sites with absent owners.

The OppSites program has 3 major components:

OppSitesMatchmaker – OppSites Matchmaker makes it easy to describe your goals and delivers connections between people who have aligned interests, so you can make projects happen.

Messenger – While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide instant messaging between friends and family, the OppSites Messenger connects public and private sector real estate professionals as well as economic development leaders who have aligned interests.

Marketplace – OppSites empowers local leaders to showcase areas in their communities where new development or redevelopment would support the community goals. Unlike typical commercial real estate listings, the OppSites Marketplace is not a marketplace for the buying or selling of property, OppSites is a marketplace for what is possible in every city even if the property is not currently listed with a real estate firm.

“If you want to attract development to your city, OppSites allow you to showcase opportunities in the OppSites Marketplace, which is free and publicly accessible. It allows you to market the properties in a unique way and showcase every aspect of the site, your development ideas, incentives, and of course your community profile. Whether the site is currently listed or not, you can showcase it and indicate the availability status. How great is that? You can actually market those difficult properties owned by difficult or absent property owners without it ever hitting the real estate market.” said Ken Bouchard at OppSites.

The company began in 2014 and, since I have been a user, I have seen many upgrades to the user experience as well. They are constantly evolving and listening to the needs of their customers to make the product even better. I would encourage everyone to utilize this system to promote their available sites and gain the exposure I have. The more users the system has the better the outcome for all. You can try it for free today by visiting OppSites.

Authored by MEDA Board Member and Education Committee Chair Kim Marrone, who is the Economic Development and Communications Director for the City of Oak Park.

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