U.P. economic development: Legislation on fast track

ESCANABA – Promoters seeking to create an economic development district in the Upper Peninsula are pleased with the support they’re receiving from lawmakers who are moving the legislative process forward.

Officials from Marquette and Delta counties are promoting passage of an amendment to designate at least one Next Michigan Development District in the U.P. Currently there are five such districts downstate which are eligible for economic development incentives like tax abatements.

During Wednesday’s joint governmental meeting in Escanaba, participants were updated on the progress of the amendment needed to enable the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to add a sixth economic development district tailored for the Central U.P.

Last month, Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole and Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda met in Lansing with state legislators and MEDC members in regards to developing a micropolitan economic development district specific to the region.

Legislators were impressed with the proposal and liked that the two counties were asking for an opportunity here and not money, noted O’Toole.

In addition, the two city managers brought to the state capital 32 resolutions of support from governmental entities, schools and industries from the two counties.

The following week, two bills regarding the amendment were each introduced in the House and a companion set of bills was introduced in the Senate then referred to the Commerce Committee for review, explained O’Toole.

“That was unheard of to happen all in one day,” he commented during Wednesday’s meeting.

Jim Caszatt, representing Sen. Tom Casperson, told those attending the local meeting the four bills have been put on “fast track.”

“This thing is really jelling fast,” Caszatt added.

David Nyberg, director of the Governor’s Northern Michigan Office, said he recently discussed the proposed amendment with Gov. Rick Snyder who was impressed with the regional effort.

O’Toole said he is hopeful testimony can be presented locally on the importance of developing the economic development district in the central U.P.

In addition to spurring job growth, the designation would help create regional strategies to receive government funding for economic development projects.