City commission endorses regional development plan

MARQUETTE – The Marquette City Commission on Monday became at least the eighth public body to support the creation of a regional economic development district composed of Marquette and Delta counties.

During its regular meeting Monday, the commission unanimously endorsed a resolution of support for the creation of a sixth Next Michigan Development District.

The Next Michigan Development Act, passed into law in 2010, allows for the creation of five development corporations to assist in economic development throughout the state.

The regional corporations are given access to a handful of special development tools, including the creation of renaissance zones and the abatement of some personal property and industrial taxes.

All five districts have been named, but none are located in the Upper Peninsula.

“It won’t be easy to add another zone. We understand that,” said Marty Fittante, a spokesman for state Sen. Tom Casperson, who has been pushing for a sixth district. “I think we’re cautiously optimistic – with help coming from the (Michigan) house – that we’ll be able to navigate the legislative process and add that sixth zone.”

Fittante said that Casperson, R-Escanaba, plans to introduce a three-bill package into the senate in the coming weeks. The package would aim to amend the original act and allow for the creation of a district in the U.P.

At roughly the same time, he said, a similar three-bill package should be introduced into the house, supported by U.P. Reps. John Kivela, D-Marquette, and Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.

“This is a way to get two counties, at the center of the industry in the U.P., working together,” Kivela said this morning. “We share two airports and two seaports on two Great Lakes.

“This gives the whole area more tools to use for economic development.”

Kivela said the district could spur the expansion of broadband Internet and help to create a more reliable power grid. Additionally, he said, it could lead to the “development of a better transportation corridor that would allow goods to be shipped here and give potential companies better access to markets.”

The resolution supported Monday by the city commission states the area has an ability to increase activity in manufacturing, distribution and transportation of products and in supplying raw materials.

The central U.P., the resolution states, is a prime candidate for such a designation, as the region is home to a population of about 110,000, a multi-modal transportation system and nearly three dozen manufacturers that employ more than 15,000.

Some other Next Michigan Development Corporations exist along the I-69 corridor, in Grand Traverse County and in the Detroit area.

When the original five districts were being established, the city of Escanaba applied for the designation, according to Fittante.

Though that application wasn’t successful, Fittante said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation liked the proposal and urged the city to push for a sixth district. Escanaba officials contacted Casperson.

“Based upon how Escanaba’s application was received, I think it’s appropriate to site one here,” Fittante said.

Though the main players in any sort of regional corporation would be the cities of Escanaba and Marquette, Fittante said the region could expand in the future in an attempt to increase influence and create economies of scale.

“Marquette County and the city of Marquette have done a tremendous amount of research about how much opportunity there is if we act regionally,” Fittante said. “If we compete regionally like this, we have a better chance to compete with some of the more metropolitan areas (of the state).”

Fittante said Monday Casperson’s office had received resolutions of support from five municipalities in Delta County, as well as Marquette’s Chocolay Township. The Marquette County Board approved the resolution last month.

Both the Negaunee and Ishpeming city councils will see copies of the resolution during regular meetings this week.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.