CEDAM’s 15-month Community Development Fellowship places individuals in communities across Michigan engaged or certified in the Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) program. The fellows assist with a wide range of projects with the goal of expanding organizational capacity and boosting collaboration in communities across the state. The program is made possible through support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).
CEDAM’s recruitment and communications intern Dominic Cipolla (virtually) sat down with Michelle McGregor, a CEDAM fellow working with Bridgeport Charter Township, who is working on projects that support long-term capital investment planning, community engagement, and economic development. The Fellowship also presented her the opportunity to attend one of CEDAM’s signature trainings, Real Estate Development Bootcamp, and we learned more about how it has impacted her, as well as the Bridgeport community.
I am a Detroit native and a Michigan State University graduate. I’ve been living in the Great Lakes Bay region for 21 years now. I moved here as a founding member of Kingdom Life Ministries International in Saginaw, which led me into the nonprofit sector. I recently retired after 20 years of service and decided that I needed to pivot toward community development. I desired more knowledge and experience in how to develop and restore vibrant, resilient, and resourceful neighborhoods and communities. I just so happened to come across this position while on vacation and it was right up my alley.
Can you tell me about some of the initiatives you’re spearheading as a fellow in Bridgeport?
I have had the pleasure of laying the foundation for the township’s first-ever Capital Improvement Plan. I’m also co-leading the Bridgeport Economic Development Steering Committee as the administrator and reviewer. The committee consists of local and regional stakeholders including the county commissioner, the school superintendent, local business owners and department heads.
I assist with Bridgeport’s Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) as well. The committee, composed of 14 residents increasing awareness about the need for a new township municipal complex. I‘ve created an application, made contributions to the committee’s guidelines, and provided overall administrative support.
What are you getting out of the experience?
Being mentored while on the front lines by individuals who are doing the work has been amazing to me. I am here to learn, build, and grow. People always say that you receive as much as you put in no matter where you are. This experience has been so enlightening because I have received so much more than I could ever put in.
You recently graduated from CEDAM’s Real Estate Development Boot Camp training. Why did you choose to attend and how has it helped you as a fellow?
The Real Estate Development Boot Camp was really helpful because I am a hands-on learner. I have been able to apply what I have learned through my work. Through the boot camp, I fell in love with the possibility of applying what they taught me to a real project.
Tell us about your project. What opportunity does the proposed development offer the community?
I realized that I wanted to do a small-scale development project to get my feet wet and apply what I learned through the boot camp. The property is a former gas station, located right between the main city highway and a side street on a triangular lot. The gas station has a rich history of bringing people together and used to be very popular back in the day. One idea that I would love to act on involves the space as a hub for local events. It could be an area for food trucks, meetings, live entertainment, and congregation for the community.
Why is this project important for the community?
Working with small businesses is going to generate Bridgeport pride. My goal is to have the city’s business owners collaborate and take advantage of the unused space. Right across the street is a kayak dock. I can already imagine people docking their kayaks and walking across the street for ice cream. It is also important to keep in mind that 26% of our citizens are seniors. They remember using the gas station and have a love for Bridgeport’s history. This project involves bridging generations and creating something that everyone can appreciate. As the Township pursues Redevelopment Ready Communities certification, a main focus will be gathering community input to know exactly what people want.
There is a saying that I coined and like to use a lot in my daily life: “It’s about me, but it’s not about me.” This project is about me completing a task, but ultimately it has less to do with me and more about everyone who will be positively impacted by the work. The end product is about something bigger than just me. It is a way to serve my amazing community. That really describes CEDAM’s Fellowship Program. If you’re interested in community and economic development, policy, or advocacy, I would strongly recommend giving it a try. I am grateful to God for showing me this posting, and I am glad that I could be a part of something bigger than myself. Plus, now I can call myself a small-scale developer on my resume!