Fellow Feature: Community input, collaboration helps steer Manistee

By Lissette Reyes, community development fellow

There are many ways to determine if a community is thriving. You can look at economic statistics, social trends, employment, demographics, and a number of other determinants; but how do we measure our community pride? What about the commitment from leadership to overcome challenges and move forward? Do these things matter?

I moved to Manistee in early December to start my role as a community development fellow with CEDAM. I was overwhelmed by the excitement of the community leaders, members, local organizations, and the overall warmth I received from this beautiful northern Michigan town.

As the community development fellow, I lead projects related to housing, economic development, branding and marketing, and governance training for the community in collaboration with other organizations. As I got familiar with my role and the community, I realized how the passion and drive of the community itself were going to determine the success of the projects I lead. 

In early February we held an Economic Development Summit to hear from the community and determine the economic development path forward. Although it was bitterly cold and the wind and snow were relentless, Manistee community members came out to make their voices heard. We conducted a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of Manistee and had more than 80 attendees in the meeting. In the SWOT analysis, the community recognized the natural resources, historic downtown, and arts and culture as their strengths and most important assets. On the other hand, negativity and lack of vision were voted as the biggest weaknesses and threats to community growth. 

With this information driving our decisions, we decided to make positivity and transparency the two main drivers of Project Rising Tide in the community. Over the course of the last six months, I’ve seen meetings and conversations happen that haven’t in a long time—for example, joint meetings between the city, county, county visitors bureau, and chamber of commerce. And while we all know that change takes time, I’m seeing a city committed to working with others and a community ready to grow with open hearts, creativity, and ownership. 

The Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce will be the new lead in Manistee for economic development efforts. The City and County of Manistee, along with its largest employers and local organizations, have all put in a vote of trust, demonstrating the importance of collaboration. With their talent and the Rising Tide technical assistance, the local organizations are putting in work to show a new face of Manistee.  

The City of Manistee will be reviewing the Rising Tide technical assistance documents at their city council meeting in October. This meeting is meant to discuss the new goals, recommendations, and the new path forward for Manistee. The idea is to officially adopt the Rising Tide recommendations as the official framework for community development in the city. 

The joint commitment from engaged residents and city leadership not only lead to a clear, structured path forward, but also a notable increase in community pride.

This post is a part of a series highlighting CEDAM’s community development fellows. Our Community Development Fellowship places fellows in Project Rising Tide communities to add capacity and help build strong planning, zoning, and economic development plans. The fellows work with a local steering committee and implement transformational projects within their community.