County officials asked to support ‘micropolitan’ plan

ESCANABA – Municipalities from Delta and Marquette counties are being asked to support legislation that could designate the region as a Michigan development district and spur economic development on a unified basis.

“If our area doesn’t step up to compete … we’re just going to be left behind,” commented Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda during a meeting of area officials at Escanaba City Hall on Wednesday.

Officials from the two-county area are promoting passage of an amendment to designate at least one Next Michigan Development District in the Upper Peninsula.

Currently there are five such districts downstate that are eligible for economic development incentives like tax abatements.

Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole considers this designation as “Michigan’s most powerful economic development tool.”

Vajda and O’Toole have been working with their staff and other city, county and state officials to create legislation that would enable a region in the U.P. to become a development corporation to promote economic growth.

During Wednesday’s joint noon meeting, participants were linked downstate via the Internet with Marty Fittante, spokesperson for Sen. Tom Casperson, and Kevin Korpi of Acuitas who has been working to promote economic development in Escanaba including its waterfront area.

Fittante said the more municipalities that support the proposed legislation will mean greater opportunity for the amendment to pass to develop a “micropolitan area” for economic development.

“The two counties have come together to lead the way,” Fittante commented. “This shows the U.P. is leading the way with collaboration and partnership.”

Officials throughout the two-county area have been given a proposed resolution of support that each municipality can tweak as they like, said O’Toole.

Vajda explained the current goal is to pass the resolution of support to amend legislation to add a development district in the U.P. Once that district is designated, a corporation would be formed of participating units of government. This would involve creation of a mutual agreement including staff, dues and a budget, he said.

O’Toole noted that each county brings assets to the table like seaports, airports, and other modes of transportation. The two counties also have the population numbers – more than half the U.P.’s population – and have the business base for creating a development corporation, he said.

In the long run, the district could allow participants to develop regional strategies for receiving government funding for economic development projects.

Korpi explained that the legislative amendment would be needed to enable the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to add a sixth economic development district that would be tailored for the central U.P.