BY LAURA GALBRAITH
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — One of the eye-opening experiences from the distribution of funds from the dissolution of the Leelanau County Economic Development Corp. was the overwhelming response from Leelanau-based businesses.
More than 60 businesses submitted grant applications seeking more than $300,000, making for some tricky math considering there was just $19,000 available.
Also of note was the wide-range of business interests seeking help: familiar Leelanau names existing for generations, and new operations still carving out a niche`. The ideas were equally intriguing: research into hardier grape varietals for Leelanau’s burgeoning wine and grape industry, inventory software, equipment purchases and more.
The 18 modest grants of $1,000 or $1,250 likely won’t create a significant boost in Leelanau County’s economy, and giving away free money is hardly a sustainable economic development strategy. But the grant program produced one definitive outcome – there are scores of business owners looking for resources to improve their companies, and plenty of other residents who view it as an important local priority.
Organizations like the Traverse City Area Chamber are expanding the local resources available for business start-ups. In just two years, the Chamber’s business financing efforts have mushroomed into an impressive loan portfolio totaling more than $750,000. Other proposals in the works will soon push that figure past $1 million. Almost two dozen local businesses have tapped these programs.
It’s taken a lot of work – and investment. For instance, the process to become certified as a partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the new Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) took almost two years. Training was needed for Chamber staff to complete the Certified Economic Development (CEcD) certification through the Michigan Economic Developers Association. The Chamber also partnered with other organizations like Fifth Third Bank and Traverse City Light and Power to bolster its lending pool, and invested its own funds through the Traverse City Area Chamber Foundation.
Folks around Michigan are taking notice. Gov. Rick Snyder publicly acknowledged the Chamber with a proclamation commending the organization’s economic development efforts. Chamber programs were highlighted at a meeting of the Michigan Economic Development Authority board as a model.
Such accolades are nice. But the real benefits extend throughout the community in the form of more local job opportunities, increased tax base and expanded economic activity. To that end, the Chamber and its partners will continue to put their money and effort where their mouth is – and hopefully convince others that it’s time to get on board.
Laura Galbraith is the senior vice president of finance and administration at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by email at email@example.com