Econ zone plan has merit, will help area, region

During a trip through the Upper Peninsula last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder voiced public support for the creation of a new district under the Next Michigan Development Act, a concept that we have praised in the past.

The act, passed into law in 2010, allows for the creation of five regional economic development corporations to assist in economic development throughout the state. Now established, each of the five corporations – none are currently located in the U.P. – are given access to a handful of special development tools, including the creation of renaissance zones and the abatement of some personal property and industrial taxes.

Elected officials hailing from the U.P., including State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and State Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, are backing legislation that would amend the law to include the creation of a sixth district comprised largely of Marquette and Delta counties.

Other zones are located along the I-69 corridor, in Grand Traverse County and in the Detroit area. Officials have said the central U.P. is a prime candidate for a zone, as it is home to a population of about 110,000, a multi-modal transportation system and nearly three dozen manufacturers that employ more than 15,000.

From an economic development standpoint, we believe this is a plan that could help to place the U.P. on similar footing with other downstate regions and could result in additional opportunities for both funding and cross-peninsula cooperation.

State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, the chair of the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, spoke in support of the legislation in Escanaba last week during a meeting in which members of his committee heard testimony on the subject.

“I look forward to these things being done real soon,” said Kowall, who added that his group would pass the bills out of committee in early September.

During last week’s Escanaba hearing, about two dozen people voiced support for the plan, including Snyder, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh, DNR Chief of Forest Resources Bill O’Neill and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant.

We are pleased to see such broad support for this plan, which has also received public praise by numerous municipal governments. If it comes to fruition, the creation of a sixth corporation under the Next Michigan Development Act could be a major boon for the region north of the Mackinac Bridge.

For municipalities, especially smaller units of government like those located in the U.P., state funding is getting ever more difficult to come by. Now, more than ever, is the time for cooperation.

On a broader scale, we love to see such bipartisan, bicameral cooperation from the U.P.’s elected officials. As we have said for years, the more our elected representatives are able to speak in Lansing with one voice, the better it will be for residents in all 15 counties of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.