Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

May 11, 2014

Laura Galbraith: Better path to economic development

TRAVERSE CITY — One of the common complaints about local government is the various layers that exist and the cost and red tape that often result.

Things are definitely better than they used to be, but the status quo is not likely to change anytime soon. So it’s important to take advantage of even incremental opportunities to eliminate duplicative efforts and create better ways to deliver services across a wider area at a lower cost. The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce recently made a significant breakthrough in doing just that, and in the process will create a more efficient method of distributing upwards of $2.5 million worth of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars for economic development across the region.

Three years ago the Michigan Economic Development Corp. stepped in to rebuild the federally funded CDBG program. Millions in federal dollars were made available to regional revolving loan funds across the state for economic development projects to eliminate blight and create jobs. But in some areas the federal rules weren’t being followed, and in dozens of other communities the money languished because there wasn’t staff or expertise available to oversee the lending.

The MEDC had to address the compliance issues while also finding a way to get these dollars circulating in local communities. It set up 10 “Prosperity Regions” around Michigan to administer those CDBG funds on a regional basis — representing about a quarter of the 40 or so revolving loan funds that previously existed. The Traverse City Area Chamber Foundation then completed the arduous task of becoming a certified fund manager for the state’s Region 2 that spans 10 counties in Northwest Michigan — a process that involved many hours of training and education for Chamber staff over an extended period.

With this certification, the Chamber Foundation assumes administration of more than $2.5 million in CDBG funds in Benzie and Grand Traverse counties. Local government officials remain involved in the review and oversight process, but project developers can utilize a streamlined, less time-consuming process to secure economic development loans. It will also eliminate the burden on local communities to operate these programs on a county-by-county basis.

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