Michigan community strategically invests in long-term economic success
No community achieves success overnight; it takes years of strategic investments, planning and a commitment to placemaking to become a location where talent wants to reside. In Michigan, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has developed innovative solutions and tools to help communities of all sizes begin this process to achieve long-term economic prosperity.
In recent years, Grayling, located in the northern Lower Peninsula decided to make strategic changes to begin appealing to businesses, encouraging development and attracting talent to live in the city. It began by investing in itself — including revamping its zoning code to be more accommodating to future development and adopting a new economic development strategy to address local issues and barriers to growth.
While making these changes, the city leaned on the expertise and technical support through the voluntary, no-cost Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) certification program. Through this program, Grayling poised itself for downtown place-management best practices and began strategically preparing for investment in its community.
The RRC program nicely complements the Michigan Main Street (MMS) program, which assists communities interested in revitalizing and preserving their traditional commercial district. By participating in MMS and becoming officially certified through RRC, Grayling built a solid economic foundation and today, it is seeing incredible progress as a result.
Already, the city had attracted a significant new employer in the region: Arauco North America, a Chile-based global leader in the development and production of sustainable forest products, which was expected to generate $325 million in private investment and create 250 jobs. When Arauco opened, it was the county’s second-largest employer and in 2019, it has already exceeded its private investment and job creation goals.
Seeing the impact the city’s strategic investments were having, residents came together to identify additional ways to further build on Grayling’s success. In 2017, the community utilized the crowdfunding initiative Public Spaces Community Places to renovate unused space at the Artisan Village Creativity Center to help foster youth development and creativity. The project was well-aligned with the city’s MMS transformation strategy focused on “The Art of Recreation,” and it quickly achieved its goal through grassroots fundraising to unlock matching funds from MEDC in support.
Once the city recognized the power it had to generate the change it wanted to see in its community, it came together yet again to successfully leverage Community Development Block Grant funds to create a public access point and canoe launch for the region’s Au Sable River, building even further on the region’s recreational opportunities.
Grayling spent years putting in the hands-on work needed to create the economic success it experiences today. Their story highlightings the need for states around the country to begin taking steps today to strategically attract investments and revitalize their communities to achieve long-term economic prosperity for all.
Michelle Parkkonen, AICP, is the director of technical assistance programs at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.