ESCANABA - In an effort to revitalize the economy of the Central Upper Peninsula, municipalities are considering developing regional strategies that offer more clout for competitive government funding.
Escanaba City Manager Jim O'Toole and Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda presented the concept of forming a "micropolitan area" to community leaders from Delta and Marquette counties. The group met during a recent joint governmental meeting at Escanaba City Hall.
"A micropolitan area is an area too small to be urban and too big to be rural," explained O'Toole, adding that the central U.P. is neither urban or rural because of its broad business diversity and geographic area.
Jenny Lancour | Daily Press
Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole, at left, and Marquette City Manager Bill Vajda recently present information on a proposed collaboration of municipalities seeking economic development funds for regional projects.
"This would be a good partnership with our neighbors so that we can spur regional economic development that would benefit the entire region," he said.
The collaboration being considered by Escanaba, Gladstone, Marquette and other areas in the Central U.P., would give the region a stronger voice to compete for government funding for economic development purposes, O'Toole said.
Rather than individual municipalities seeking to boost their own economies, the micropolitan area strategy focuses on municipalities unifying to increase manufacturing, distribution, and transportation of products and raw materials throughout the region, he said.
The Central U.P. is a prime candidate for a regional approach to economic development because of its combined population of 184,000 which is 60 percent of the entire U.P.'s head count, said O'Toole.
In addition, approximately 33 key manufacturers and major businesses employ around 15,000 people in the central region, he said.
A variety of transportation means are also in place in the region, noted O'Toole. This includes Marquette County's international airport, the Delta County Airport, Marquette's international seaport, Escanaba's seaport, Gladstone's seaport, railroad infrastructure, and highway systems.
Vajda commented that this micropolitan area could possibly expand to include Houghton and Sault Ste. Marie, unifying more population, geographical area, and additional key manufacturers and businesses.
"We know that this model works for others," he said, adding that if the U.P. doesn't take action, economic development funding will go downstate.
Vajda said community leaders in Marquette County have been talking about revitalizing its rural and urban areas for the past two years. Marquette City recently approached Escanaba and Gladstone to combine economic development efforts.
O'Toole said the micropolitan concept would work in conjunction with local plans such as Escanaba's Master Plan and it's North Shore Development Plan.
The unified approach may also be a strategy for the region to become a Renaissance Zone which offers tax reductions and other incentives for economic development, he added.
During the Escanaba Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, O'Toole introduced the micropolitan area concept explaining that individual governmental units are having difficulty obtaining economic development funding from Lansing; by collaborating strategies, the region may get attention from Lansing.
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, firstname.lastname@example.org