Development district could pay dividends in U.P.

Marquette’s City Manager Bill Vajda has become a vocal proponent of a regional economic development strategy which could spark more investment in the central Upper Peninsula from the state and federal governments.

Vajda met recently with officials from municipalities across Delta and Marquette counties, asking them to support designating the two-county region as a Michigan development district – a move that could potentially unify economic development efforts and bring in more resources from Lansing and Washington.

“If our area doesn’t step up to compete … we’re just going to be left behind,” Vajda told a meeting of area officials at Escanaba City Hall last week.

The group of city, county and state officials’ goal is to promote a legislative amendment to designate at least one “Next Michigan Development District” in the U.P. There are five of these districts downstate; their status makes them eligible for economic development incentives like tax abatements.

We urge units of government from across the central U.P. to throw their support behind this plan. The more municipalities backing the proposed legislation, the greater the odds of its passage.

The strategy is an extension of an earlier idea – creating greater cohesion within a “micropolitan area” for economic development.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines a micropolitan area as a rural county whose largest city doesn’t exceed a population of 50,000. The nation has 576 of these areas, and in 2011, Marquette County was ranked 20th among them in economic development.

In conjunction with Delta County, it would be an even stronger entity.

A central U.P. micropolitan area can offer seaports, airports, rail transportation to promote business development. The two counties also have the population – more than half the people in the peninsula – to provide a solid base for economic expansion.

Creating a special development district with help from Lansing would provide a structure to help funnel grants and other funds from state and federal sources.

Over time, such a district could be a major player in accelerating regional growth by tapping into resources that no municipality could obtain on its own.

In essence, this plan has a very simple message: communities in the central U.P. need to cooperate in order to succeed. Collaboration and partnership are the keys to our region’s growth.