Traverse City News and Events

DDA To Talk Economic Development, Community Officer, Downtown Planning

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 18, 2019

Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board members Friday will get a first look at a proposed new strategic plan to boost economic development and restructure TraverseCONNECT over the next three years. The board will also discuss updates on downtown’s new community police officer program and review the progress of several downtown planning projects.

Warren Call, president and CEO of TraverseCONNECT, will present a proposed “2020-2023 Strategic Plan” to the DDA board. TraverseCONNECT and the Grand Traverse County Economic Development Corporation have been working with consulting group Fourth Economy to create a plan for an economic development organization (EDO) under the TraverseCONNECT umbrella. The EDO would focus on aggressively recruiting and retaining jobs to the region, doing for economic development what Traverse City Tourism does for tourism.

In August, Call shared a study with local officials that showed the four-county region has higher-than-average living costs, lower-than-average incomes, and a declining number of workers and families. At Friday’s DDA board meeting, he will delve into the new proposed EDO plan for addressing those challenges. The organization’s mission will be “to ensure that the Grand Traverse Region is home to a diversified economy – comprised of small businesses, startups with potential growth, institutional employers, and nonprofit anchors – that creates family-sustaining job opportunities that will retain and attract a competitive workforce,” according to the plan.

The plan envisions a significant transformation of TraverseCONNECT – parent organization of the Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture North – including creating several new staff positions, merging the TraverseCONNECT and Chamber boards, and securing a $3 million annual budget. TraverseCONNECT, serving as an EDO, would act as a “central point of contact” for prospective businesses scouting the Traverse City area, create a “concierge network” to connect prospective talent to career opportunities in the community, help address the wage-to-cost-of-living gap by publishing wage benchmark data for employers and providing relocation/rental assistance, partner with local education and training providers, and develop a centralized website and marketing campaign that highlights local job opportunities and employers.

The plan also envisions TraverseCONNECT conducting approximately 100 annual site “check-in” visits to target businesses to understand their needs and remove barriers to growth, develop data and reporting methods to measure economic development progress in the region, and create new programming and services related to specific area business needs. TraverseCONNECT would work heavily with regional partners to develop shared economic strategies and connect businesses with resources that exist elsewhere throughout the community, though the organization will take the lead on EDO planning. “A fundamental role of TraverseCONNECT will be to act as a central point of contact for the entire business community, and the organization that any businesses can turn (to) if they want to get connected to the resources they need, such as financing, upskilling existing employees, or finding a location for a new office,” the plan states.

TraverseCONNECT’s structural transformation is planned over the next three years, with recommendations to hire a director of economic development, director of investor relations, and director of marketing and communications, as well as government relations support staff to advocate to lawmakers on behalf of local businesses. The $3 million proposed budget would require an additional investment of $1 million in annual funding beyond TraverseCONNECT’s existing budget. That additional funding is anticipated to come from program and event revenue, as well as “investment from private, public, and nonprofit partners,” according to the plan. Call previously told The Ticker that in conjunction with presenting the new strategic plan to local boards like the DDA this fall, he will also be seeking “direct investment” to help fund the EDO plan.

DDA board members Friday will also consider approving a lease agreement for new office space for downtown’s new community police officer “until a more permanent location can be found in the DDA district,” according to DDA CEO Jean Derenzy. The agreement would provide office space at 123 West Front Street, with the $800/month cost split between the DDA and Traverse City Police Department for a total of $4,800 each per year. Jon Culver, who serves as the community police officer focusing exclusively on downtown, also will provide an update DDA board members on his activities since his hiring earlier this summer.

According to Culver, alcohol complaints – related to both bars and individuals experiencing homelessness – are down, as are calls related to retail fraud, with no such complaints between late August and this week. Culver also says he’s been working to build relationships with groups like the Jubilee House and Central United Methodist Church, downtown merchants, and visitors. Long-term goals he hopes to focus on include reducing the number of homeless downtown by better connecting those individuals to services, building stronger relationships with downtown employers, having positive interactions with the public as an officer, and seeing a “cleaner, more family-friendly environment” downtown.

Several downtown planning projects are also making progress. After multiple public input sessions this summer, the Lower Boardman River Leadership Team is meeting this week to begin working on a draft plan for the river expected to be shared in October. Draft plans are also expected to come to the DDA board in October related to extending the tax increment financing (TIF) 97 district, expanding the boundaries of downtown to include Eighth Street, and formalizing a strategic plan, vision, and mission statement for the DDA. DDA board members are expected to hear brief updates on each of those projects Friday.

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