TRAVERSE CITY — No one wants to throw a party where nobody shows up.
Fortunately this wasn’t the case for the Leelanau County Business Grant program, where some 70 county-based businesses this month submitted applications totaling more than $400,000 for grant money from the dissolution of the county’s Economic Development Corp.
Of course there isn’t nearly enough money to fulfill all the ideas and, honestly, giving away free money isn’t the most effective nor sustainable economic development strategy. But the sheer volume of response makes one obvious point — area business folks are looking to their local governments and other regional economic development partners for help in growing the region’s business sector. These organizations need to step up to the plate.
The Traverse City Area Chamber’s recent membership event — a highly successful initiative that generated close to 300 new members — was directed by a savvy, energetic entrepreneur who’s worked for more than two decades in hundreds of communities around the country. He’s worked in flourishing areas where you can feel the community buzz as soon as you arrive and depressed places struggling with double-digit unemployment, vacant buildings and low community morale.
There’s always one constant, he said, between the haves and the have-nots: a thriving business sector. Places with a strong business base have career opportunities for their young people, the resources to maintain their infrastructure, the institutions to emphasize arts and cultural offerings and the political clout and will to get things done.
At the other end of the spectrum are regions with companies that are leaving and local economies are stagnant or in decline. There are limited employment opportunities and local governments struggle to meet even basic needs. Arts and cultural offerings are low priorities and there’s little if any political wherewithal to turn things around.