Unique collaboration promotes regional economic development

For the past several years, there has been much discussion among local, state and federal policy makers regarding the importance of collaboration between public sector entities. And while there seems to be endless debate on how to structure programs that could work to incentivize or simply force such practices, there is at least one effort quietly underway in Michigan that could provide a model for others.

That effort, known broadly as the “I-69 International Trade Corridor” has been structured to take advantage of the fact that our state is where some of the nation’s busiest border crossings, major freeways, shipping ports, international rail lines, international airports and sophisticated freight facilities converge.

Those logistical assets make Michigan an extraordinary piece of transportation real estate: a global trade route, if you will.

The statistics support Michigan’s enviable status as a logistical phenomenon: In 2012, Detroit ranked second, and Port Huron was the nation’s sixth busiest border crossing by trucks; and both cities ranked in the top four for border crossings by train, according to the USDOT. Through these crossings, Michigan has access to global shipping gateways like the Halifax Deep Water Port, as well as three other ports along the St. Clair River that can accommodate docking freighters.

To leverage the combined economic potential of all of this multimodal traffic, Prima Civitas, an East Lansing-based nonprofit economic development firm, facilitated the unprecedented partnership of 31 municipalities and four county governments along I-69. The partnership represents one of Michigan’s five aerotropolis zones, called Next Michigan Development Corporations (NMDCs). These zones surround key infrastructure such as airports, major rail lines and highways, and the collaborating municipalities coordinate efforts to attract and retain businesses involved in the import, export or transport of goods.

“Michigan is ideally situated, and has the infrastructure to handle all that trade,” said James Smiertka, vice president for regional development and legal counsel at Prima Civitas.

The “I-69 International Trade Corridor Next Michigan Corporation” is the largest partnership of its kind in Michigan, and covers Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair and Shiawassee counties. The impressive regional initiative recently won the International Economic Development Council’s 2014 Bronze Award in a very competitive field of hundreds of nominees.

One of five NMDCs in the state, the local communities and counties involved all signed a historic memorandum of understanding to cooperate, creating a seamless business-friendly environment. The NMDC designation means qualifying projects can take advantage of and leverage important economic development incentives and tools, including regional marketing, renaissance zones, tax increment financing, and industrial development and plant rehabilitation districts.

The I-69 Corridor NMDC has had several successes already, including the recruitment and expansion of Pinnacle Foods, which consolidated several of its Vlasic pickle manufacturing facilities, and relocated them from the east coast to Imlay City in the Thumb.

The I-69 NMDC’s latest success is in Perry, where developers recently broke ground on a new, state of the art multi-modal transportation center. The new 13-acre facility being developed will primarily service Canadian trucks moving goods for import and export, making this a truly international project. The initial $1.5 million investment is expected to open for business in 2015. The infrastructure improvements involved with this project, including a new water pipeline extending from the city of Perry, means that the area is primed for even further development.

“The I-69 Trade Corridor initiative has been the most transformational thing we have done as a county to develop economic opportunities,” says Justin Horvath, president and CEO of the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership.

It’s essential to keep working regionally to leverage our remarkable assets, and to keep turning our best ideas into action plans that support Michigan’s economic growth.

Arnold Weinfeld is CEO and board chair of Prima Civitas www.primacivitas.org, a nonprofit community and economic development organization. Prima Civitas was launched by Michigan State University and also is supported by CS Mott Foundation and other key partners.

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John Buckley
Thu, 01/08/2015 - 10:41am
It is worth noting that I-69 is also part of Corridor 18, a USHTA initiative to complete a route from the Canadian border to the Mexican border to facilitate the free flow of goods through the midsection of the country. Segments are currently under construction or in the planning stages to finish I-69 through IN, KY, TN, MS, AR, LA and TX. Each state has its own Dept. of Transportation that tracks progress along this corridor. This will further help Michigan's competitiveness vis-a-vis the rest of the country.
John Q. Public
Fri, 01/09/2015 - 12:35am
Unique? Is there a single city or township with a population over 15,000 in the state that is not part of a NMDA, DDA, BRA, CAEP, CTP, LDFA, CIA, 425 or RZ, or the home of a recipient of an MEDC handout? If everybody is special, is anybody special? With the ever-expanding plethora of "incentives" (read: tax expenditures), it is clear that what Michigan is committed to is full employment for government and not-for-profit bureaucrats who make a living navigating the red tape created with every "economic development" public act. The sad thing for taxpayers is that even when the companies and municipalities are non-compliant, the response is not a "sorry, you can't do that"; it's "let's amend the law so that no matter how poorly conceived or administered a plan is, we'll make the actions legal!"
Dale Kerbyson
Mon, 01/12/2015 - 11:13am
It’s too bad that the partial informed are allowed to comment and not attach their names to their strong personal opinion. John Q. Public’s comments are misinformed. Half the items he lists by acronym are Tax Increment Finance Authority’s (TIFA) that capture local tax dollars and directly reinvest them in the area which the tax dollars are captured to improve the infrastructure for those who are in the TIFA. To quote Mr. Public, “it is clear that what Michigan is committed to is full employment” and all incentives and plans that can be implemented are welcome!
John Q. Public
Tue, 01/13/2015 - 11:51pm
Let me guess: you own a business that takes advantage of multiple tax expenditures, or you're employed by either government or a not-for-profit in the business of navigating legislatively created red tape, right? The merits and detriments of identity transparency aside, what indicates to you that I am misinformed? The author, in claiming uniqueness, states, "The NMDC designation means qualifying projects can take advantage of and leverage important economic development incentives and tools, including regional marketing, renaissance zones, tax increment financing, and industrial development and plant rehabilitation districts." Given that, what would you have me reference to demonstrate my informed opinion? Amusement parks? The fact that the rent seekers in NMDCs use all those handouts hardly makes them unique. Hundreds of municipalities have TIF districts. Hundreds have plant rehabilitation districts. Dozens have renaissance zones. Scores have intergovernmental agreements, including conditional land transfers--all without benefit of a NMDC. All those incentives do, at their heart, the same thing: decrease the amount of tax revenue available for the general welfare (either by exempting certain entities from paying in the first place, or allowing them to funnel them back to their own pocket, a la Olympia Development in Detroit). "Improv(ing) the infrastructure" is the least of what they do, collectively. Many of our traditional communal needs, including public education and infrastructure maintenance, are going unmet so that we can socialize the expenses of private entities in exchange for a few $20,000 jobs. City and township officials love them because they allow them to remove themselves from political accountability for their spending priorities. You can certainly have a different opinion about the value of tax expenditures, and whether their application makes a given municipality "unique", but the fact that I don't share it hardly makes me misinformed.
Thu, 02/26/2015 - 11:15am
You are right on, John Q.