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.

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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 www.medaweb.org 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 Wallethub.com 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

The Spring Toolbox, Tuesday, May 16th – A Look Ahead

17 Spring Toolbox Postcard for RoblyIn economic development sharing best practices and growing good relationships is imperative to being successful. I have enjoyed volunteering on the Education Committee to develop The Spring Economic Development Toolbox and co-chairing this year with Kimberly Marrone, Economic Development and Communications Director, City of Oak Park.

Some of the topics that will be covered:

  • Understanding the Implications of Federal Foreign Policy Changes

What will it mean for trade in a major manufacturing state? How will it impact our state’s relationships with foreign companies? Will the dynamics of foreign workers shift? And what will the impact be on our university’s admissions of international students and the local economies of communities they reside in?

  • Opportunity for All: Strategies for Inclusive Economic Development

Although residents in many communities are thriving, there are those who are experiencing declining incomes, low or no participation in the labor force, and living in increasingly concentrated poverty. Expanding economic opportunity for these residents impacts a region’s ability to grow its economy and be the best it can be. A review of a paper presented at IEDC explores the issue of economic opportunity from a developer’s perspective, and highlights best practices from nine case studies.

  • Streamlining the Development Process: Applying One Stop Ready Principles in Local Communities

One Stop Ready is Oakland County’s economic development program to provide local communities with the resources, tools and trainings needed to capitalize on local strengths, improve processes, and make its vision a reality. A review of best practices and of the Benchmark Self-Evaluation Tool.

  • Educational Attainment as an Economic Driver for States, Regions, and Communities

How the result of this co-learning project is making an impact and why economic developers should pay close attention to credentials.

Visit www.medaweb.org/springtoolbox to view the full agenda and to register.

Author: Maria Nevai, Michigan Economic Developers Association Education Committee Co-Chair, Vice President, The Opportunity Group Alliance – Capitol Area Opportunity Group and Principal/Consultant, Maria Nevai, LLC 

Starting your own business? Don’t skip a structured business plan

Clickner, Amy

Amy Clickner, CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnership

If you were to ask me what question I get asked most often by people who are looking to start their own business it would undoubtedly be; “Do I really need a business plan?”  My response is simple, if you want to succeed, yes, you do need a business plan.  Just like you wouldn’t build a house without plans or bake a cake without a recipe, you need to have plan for what your new venture will look like and how it will be funded.

With all of that being said, there are no hard and fast rules of what a business plan has to be or what it has to look like.  We have several guides at the Lake Superior Partnership Office and one of our business development representatives would be happy to sit down with you and go through them and find one that suits your personal style.  There are several things that a business plan needs to have:

  • An overview of your company
  • How you plan to structure it (a sole proprietor, LLC, Incorporation?)
  • Financials and Projections
  • Market Analysis
  • Industry Analysis
  • Competition
  • Human Resources Plan
  • Marketing and Sales Strategy
  • Management Plan
  • Exit Strategy

Most people take a look at that list and are turned off by it.  What does it mean?  Where am I supposed to get this stuff from?  Believe it or not, most of it you already know.  You know what you want your company to be, how you want it to run, what your financial situation is and what the day to day operations are going to look like.  Getting those out of your head and down on paper is an enormous first step.  From there, experts at the LSCP or SBDC can help you with the research and financial projections and the final packaging if you need to submit your business plan to a lender for financing.

Having a business plan and financial projections prepared for a lender is one reason that it is necessary to create one, but you may think that if you’re self-financing you can skip the process all together.  I don’t recommend it.  One of the most beneficial part of the planning process is that it help you work out the kinks in your plan and refine your ideas and budget.  In some cases after going through the planning process, people find that their business won’t be profitable and decide not to move forward, other times, they refine their ideas, sometimes the plan is just  a confirmation of what they already knew and no adjustments need to be made (this is extremely rare).

Owning your own business will be one of the most difficult and rewarding things that you will ever do, don’t shortchange yourself at the beginning by neglecting to prepare a plan.

Authored by: Amy Clickner, CEcD, CFRM, the CEO of Lake Superior Community Partnership. Amy is the Vice President of the Michigan Economic Developers Association.

How does a Chambers of Commerce help drive Economic Development?

church_street_burlingtonAs a professional economic developer, I have had the opportunity to be on both sides of the fence when it comes to participating with local economic development efforts. There certainly is a difference from being a municipal economic developer verses a Chamber executive.

In talking to my Chamber colleagues from around the state, it is interesting how several of them think economic development can be too complicated. I have a difficult time understand the rationale of this statement. Either they have an antiquated definition of economic development, or have been told that Chambers have no place in economic development.  Contrary to that belief, a Chambers of Commerce entire focal point center is on business.  Sometimes perception is reality when it comes to the work of a Chamber.

Certainly this model doesn’t qualify for all types of Chambers. Regional Chambers such as Detroit Regional Chamber and Shiawassee Regional Chamber tend to operate differently than a small or city-focused Chamber, similar to the one I operate at Troy Chamber of Commerce.

So how can a local Chamber of Commerce have an impact on economic development?

Let’s divide this into a few areas and start with business attraction. As economic developers we know that the private sector business usually has a “wish list” and set of requirements when looking at a particular city or town where they wish to locate. It is natural for them to reach out to the community first to learn more about the area. Whether its questions about the tax base, community structure, even asking the question, is the community business friendly? I have found that some companies are interested in having this conversation with a local Chamber. In many cases, Chambers can be the first line of defense for the community and so providing the key information they need many are essential for them to move forward with their planning process.

The second division could involve talent or the workforce. The business has decided to locate their business and is in the need for local talent if possible. They are providing jobs and some Chambers have access to job banks and in many cases, resumes that might be useful for the business. I can personally tell you that I often get resumes from professionals looking for a change in their career.

Third and final division would be retention. I think this is a Chamber strongest asset. When I worked at a municipality, our mantra was “retention was everyone’s job”. I truly believe that. Any interaction a business will have in your community connected to retention. A Chambers strategy should focus on business retention, entrepreneurism, economic gardening, and marketing.

Authored By: Ara Topouzian, President and Chief Executive Officer, Troy Chamber of Commerce. Ara is a Member at Large of MEDA’s Board of Directors and was Board President in 2014.

Economic Development Career Advancement

medayp_spring_education_eventI chose to write about career advancement in economic development in this month’s blog for various reasons. Among the most important are broadening the professional scope for economic development practitioners, uncovering better ways to address the multiple complexities related to today’s economic development climate, and providing more optimal opportunities for early-career professionals to learn about the practice. I write from the premise of having spent my entire career in various roles ranging from very traditional business development, to working on emerging talent and procurement initiatives, and now, being housed in corporate relations at an academic institution. Considering how my own career has evolved, my interest in developing the next generation of diverse thought-leaders in economic development has grown; which is why I have been committed to the MEDA – Young Professionals (MEDAYP) committee as the chair for the past two years.

MEDAYP efforts are focused on professional development for early-career talent. Two prominent programs that have continued for a second year are “Get Hired for a Day” and the Spring Education series, entitled “Getting Your Feet on the Ground.” Both activities aim to cultivate professionals and provide opportunities to learn more about how to grow and thrive in economic development. It is beneficial for the entire MEDA community because it is our professional responsibility to ensure that there is a well-supported and educated talent pipeline that can be hired into our organizations at various levels for advancement. Not only will it foster new innovations in our work, but also provide a healthy exchange of ideas to address the ever-changing professional climate.

Get Hired for a Day offers an exciting opportunity to generate more exposure for our profession. MEDAYP is looking for mentors and mentors and mentees, so please click the hyperlink to learn more and to sign up for this opportunity.

Getting Your Feet on the Ground is an opportunity for all levels of professionals seeking guidance on how to be effective in a professional environment that can seem broad and in a constant state of evolution. Highlights of creative, yet practical, program initiatives will be presented. Learn more and register by clicking the hyperlink.

Authored by: Clarinda Barnett-Harrison, Director, Business Engagement Center, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Clarinda is Co-Chair of MEDA’s Young Professionals Committee, MEDAYP.

MEDA’s 2015 President – Intro, Focus Areas of Economic Development for the Year

MEDA Members,Wood, Kara

It is a pleasure to serve you as the 2015 MEDA Board of Directors President. After many years of membership in MEDA and participation on the Board, it is an honor to represent my colleagues in economic development across the state.

Thank you to our 2014 President, Ara Topouzian, for his leadership over the past year. MEDA has been strengthened by his commitment and dedication. Fortunately, Ara will continue as a member of the Board. The Board officers this year include Vice President Jennifer Owens, Treasurer Michelle Aniol, and Secretary Amy Clickner.  Members at Large include Luke Bonner, and newly elected Stephanie Carroll, Monique Holliday-Bettie and Karl Dorshimer. Mark Morante continues to serve in an Ex Officio role. We have exceptional staff including Executive Director John Avery, Administrative Manager Cassandra Jorae, and Administrative Assistant Diana Gorvokovic.

MEDA’s membership has remained strong the past several years, in spite of the slowed economy. This is evidence of the hard work of our committees and the value of a MEDA membership. I encourage you to invite others to join. The strength in our organization relies heavily on the strength of committee participation.

An important part of MEDA’s value proposition is our 2015 program offerings which will combine informational content with the opportunity to network with your fellow ED professionals.

According to Governor Snyder, workforce development is the next key area for further improving Michigan’s business climate. Specifically, more career tech training for manufacturing and skilled trades jobs. Expanding programs like the Michigan Advanced Technician Training program and the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. Continuous improvement in all areas of economic development programming and more work with local partners and the business community.

MEDA recognizes the importance of workforce supply and education/training programs. Our state continues to be recognized for our skilled workforce and outstanding educational institutions. However, there is always room for improvement. Your input and support will be needed as the Board works to identify opportunities to support the advancement of workforce availability and worker skill levels throughout the state.

Other areas that MEDA will explore with programming are a direct result of what is happening in the state’s economy including additional growth in venture capital investments, more crowdfunding, higher levels of investment interest in Michigan as Detroit emerges from bankruptcy, manufacturers predicting another year of steady growth, but talent continuing to be a leading concern and continued work toward efficient regionalism.

Your participation is critical to the success of this organization. Email meda@medaweb.org and join a committee today!

Sincerely,

Authored by: Kara L. Wood, Economic Development Director, City of Grand Rapids. Kara is MEDA’s 2015 Board President.

How Do We Lean-In? Growing Female Economic Developers

JOIN_MEDA_MEMBERSHIP_Student (427x640)Recently, I had a chance to participate in a panel of female leaders in economic development at the International Economic Development Council’s annual conference in Fort Worth, Texas. The focus of the panel titled “Lean-In” was to examine both the challenges and the successes women economic development leaders have faced and the lessons learned.

The room was packed with 70+ aspiring, up and coming young women and four very enlightened males (thank you for being one of those Ron Kitchens).

The discussion really got my wheels spinning as to how I can lift other women and what advice would I give to myself 13 years ago when I first entered the field. Moreover, how can male leaders who want to support their female colleagues do the same?

Here are some ideas from myself and the panel of amazing women:

  • Mentor/Mentee: As a woman looking to excel, find someone who inspires you and begin a formal mentoring relationship. Most of my panelist had at least four formal mentoring relationships that helped them chart their course and provide honest feedback. For women already in leadership position, take time when approached to be a mentor to offer words of wisdom and regular advice.
  • Confidence: We all agreed that women can be their own worst enemies. Believing that you deserve to lead and demonstrating it to an external audience will take you far. I call it swagger. You have to own the room even if you are screaming on the inside. Speak up when you know the answers and have great insight. Let your voice be heard.
  • Emotions: I have admittedly cried on the job and each instance I would love to take back. Keep your emotions in check. When you are offered feedback that not be viewed as positive, don’t take it personally. You, the individual, is not being judged. Separate yourself from your performance and get stronger with each criticism or set back. A good friend of mine told me to bite the inside of my cheek if you feel emotional. It’s a great way to stop tears.
  • Dress: Dress for how you want others to perceive you. Don’t allow your dress to be a reason to discredit you or take away from your words. I personally despise pants suits and panty hose, but I regularly put them on knowing it is a necessary evil.

Now a few words of advice for those enlightened male leaders. I am forever grateful to those male leaders in our profession that contributed to my professional growth.

Here’s how they helped me:

  • Equal Treatment: Don’t treat your female leaders any different that your male leaders. They will let you know if they have commitments at home or need you to cut them slack.
  • Share: Share the lessons learned on your leadership path. I would recommend sharing stories of your professional struggles and lessons learned that will create deeper connections.
  • Feedback: Provide regular feedback on her progress, both good and bad. Providing honest conversations on a regular basis help most women chart their course to success.

I feel blessed to be female economic development leader in Michigan. When talking to women leaders from other states, it seems that team Michigan is head and shoulders above with many powerful female economic development leaders who have paved the path for newcomers over the past 20 years. They have charted the path for others to follow and now it is my turn to lift other women up and Lean In.

Authored by: Jennifer Owens, President, Lakeshore Advantage Corporation. Jennifer is a Member at Large on MEDA’s Board of Directors.