New Fellowship Program Catalyzes Community Economic Development Across Michigan

By Sarah Teater, Community Development Fellowship coordinator

Community economic development projects are underway across the state thanks to a new fellowship managed by CEDAM.

Last year, CEDAM was granted the opportunity to find the first cohort of community development fellows for Project Rising Tide. The fellows bring a diverse range of skills to their positions, and work collaboratively with city leadership, residents, consultants and state agency staff. They bring people together that haven’t historically partnered, promote transparent communication and build momentum for Project Rising Tide.

Project Rising Tide, at its most basic, is an opportunity for communities to come together in order to implement the changes they want to see where they live. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Talent Investment Agency (TIA) and Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA)–collectively the Talent and Economic Development (TED) team–committed their assets to the chosen Rising Tide communities across the state in order to empower them to shape their future and maximize economic potential.

Fellows began work in their communities in early December and, since then, have helped get impactful projects off the ground.

Downtown Ionia
Downtown Ionia

Like many communities across Michigan, one of Ionia’s top priorities is connectivity. A significant challenge is that downtown merchants can only do cash transactions because there isn’t an internet connection for credit card processing. Fellow Robin Suomi helped key leaders organize around this priority as a subcommittee, which decided their first project would be to work on establishing a downtown hotspot. A hotspot is a physical location where people can obtain internet access, which would provide the critical stable internet connection for merchants to increase business. Because of her relationships in the community, Robin knew of a downtown business owner that was working on a hotspot for his own business. She successfully recruited him to join the connectivity subcommittee, where he shared his plan and is now working with others to expand the hotspot area to include the entire four block downtown. This collaboration was a direct result of Robin connecting community members with similar priorities.

West Branch, Gladwin and Beaverton
West Branch, Gladwin and Beaverton each went through a comprehensive rebranding process, engaging their respective communities for input and resulting in a cohesive brand for key city entities. The new branding, created in partnership with Arnett Muldrow, was well-received by the communities who are eager to see new logos used on signs and merchandise. Fellows Mary Bickel and Joe Frey helped to organize input meetings, did outreach to get resident participation and will facilitate discussion around brand implementation.

Other Rising Tide communities are thinking about transportation. Adrian is working on a pilot autonomous vehicle project which would enhance the current Dial-A-Ride service with fixed route service, by employing a fully autonomous electric bus. Fellow Mary ZumBrunnen supported the City in applying for a U.S. Department of Transportation grant, partnering with EasyMile, a global leader in autonomous vehicle transit.

This is just the beginning, as Rising Tide communities look to add housing, tackle blight and work toward Redevelopment Ready Communities Certification.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog series highlighting stories from the fellows in the field!