New Road To Economic Development In Leelanau County?

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Leelanau-County-Map-2Who’s in charge of growing Leelanau County? Business owners and entrepreneurs now have at least part of the answer.

After a June 2013 vote by the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners to dissolve the county’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a new effort aiming to be the support for economic development going forward is now underway.

Incubated by the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, the Leelanau Peninsula Economic Foundation is a private sector nonprofit now led by a 12-member board of local professionals representing all facets of business on the peninsula, according to Julie Weeks, board director/secretary and owner of Womenable, an Empire-based consulting business.

Many Leelanau County business owners were left scratching their heads when the county’s EDC was dissolved amidst questions about the corporation’s relevance and efficacy. Commissioners also had differing opinions about government’s role in supporting business growth, with some noting it shouldn’t be involved in helping support private sector business. The decision prompted a community debate about growth in the county and how to achieve it.

“That was a blow to business in the county,” says Cherry Republic founder Bob Sutherland of the EDC’s demise, noting that every year it gets tougher to do business in rural communities. “We do need every helping hand and it’s an important role our county government can play.”

While noting the “smaller strides” that a non-governmental entity can take, Sutherland applauds the effort of the foundation board in trying to “overcome the handcuffs” the county put on EDC programs.

Laura Galbraith leads Traverse City-based Venture North, created through the merger more than two years ago of the Traverse City Area Chamber Foundation and the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, which provided services and support to Leelanau’s EDC. The funding and development entity now lends to businesses across the region. Sutherland says Venture North has been good for county businesses, as has Marquette-based Northern Initiatives.

“I’m glad there is someone who is focused on leadership and a concise strategy,” says Galbraith, of the foundation’s establishment. “They have the right people in place. When the EDC was dissolved, it left a void.”

The foundation board is led by Chair Michael Collins, a Leland business owner, and President Tim Haring, a Suttons Bay-based attorney.

As a nonprofit, the foundation will be able to apply for grant dollars, as well as seek support from the county and county businesses. Foundation board member Weeks says the nonprofit has already conducted one-on-one interviews with several business leaders across the county on economic development issues, and will conduct a survey of business owners later this month – taking the pulse of the business environment and zeroing in on the “pain points.”

Some of those “pain points” will likely include long-discussed challenges of establishing and growing a business in Leelanau County – including how to foster economic development without compromising the county’s character, the lack of affordable housing for employees, inadequate Internet service and burdensome zoning regulations.


Source: The Ticker
Original Article: New Road To Economic Development In Leelanau County?

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