STANTON — The city of Greenville is moving forward with hiring an economic development service.
The question is whether the rest of Montcalm County will follow.
A countywide economic development forum at Montcalm Community College last Monday was followed by the Greenville City Council unanimously voting last Tuesday to designate $5,000 per year for three years toward a contract between the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and The Right Place, a West Michigan economic development organization.
A local anonymous individual is willing to dedicate $25,000 per year for three years toward the cost of a part-time contract, the total of which is estimated at $50,00 per year. Chamber Co-Director Candy Kerschen has said she is optimistic the Chamber can raise the remaining $20,000 per year to make the contract a reality.
At Monday’s Economic Development & Physical Resources committee meeting, Montcalm County commissioners discussed Greenville’s independent move forward.
“You can look at that negatively or you can look at it positively and I would like to look at it positively as it starts to move a thrust forward,” said Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township. “The issue becomes for the Alliance, how do they go about solving this issue?”
Johansen was referring to the Montcalm Alliance, which is Montcalm County’s own economic development group.
director not getting paid
Montcalm Alliance Treasurer Bob Clingenpeel was in attendance at Monday’s committee meeting. He told commissioners the Alliance currently has a balance of only $1,193 and hasn’t been able to pay Executive Director Franz Mogdis in four weeks now. Mogdis typically earns $2,000 per month for his duties.
“We don’t have the money,” Clingenpeel said. “We’re not even able to pay our existing director on a routine basis.”
Clingenpeel said he sees the city of Greenville’s move toward contracting with The Right Place as a kickstart, to hopefully, a countywide initiative. He noted the Greenville City Council’s designation of $5,000 includes language that would shift to countywide economic development if the rest of the county decides to participate.
Clingenpeel said the Alliance plans to meet soon to discuss reorganization. He said a full-time contract with The Right Place would cost $120,000 to $125,000 per year and an additional $12,000 in funds would be needed for a “transition year” to pay Mogdis while the Alliance moves toward a service funding formula fee.
“If the county could jump on board with that, it’s my belief that we could go to other local businesses and say we’ve already got the Greenville Chamber on board,” Clingenpeel said. “We’re asking for a three-year commitment on everybody’s part. I think the money’s there when you look at the donors we’ve had over the years and the interest that economic development has generated over the past six months. Our intent is to restructure and to present that to you, the Board of Commissioners, and most likely ask for support.”
Johansen clarified to everyone in attendance Monday the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners does not oversee the Montcalm Alliance or its economic development efforts.
“The Montcalm Alliance is the one that is the driver,” he said. “All we are is a contributor, just like Greenville contributed last Tuesday night. We do ask that people come here so we know what’s going on and how we ought to be involved, but the ball rests with the Alliance Board of Directors.”
Greenville vs. Montcalm County?
Commissioner Ron Blanding of Greenville has long been telling his fellow commissioners that Greenville officials were moving forward with their own economic development contract with The Right Place. He felt vindicated that the Greenville City Council made it official last Tuesday night.
“There’s a lot of people who made fun of my statement, but they’re going to have a contract with The Right Place before the month of July is over,” Blanding said. “Somebody’s got to take the bull by the horns and make something happen. Greenville and Eureka Township represent over 20 percent of the tax base in this county. The rest of it is the agricultural community. The truth is they don’t support themselves very well.
“The feeling in Greenville is they’re going to do the best they can to get something going for their area,” he said. “You can put this off if you want, but there are people in Greenville who are not that patient.”
Johansen noted that Greenville is still short $20,000 of its goal and is dependent on the Chamber to raise the rest.
“We do have other economic development routes in this county,” Johansen noted. “The fastest economic development growth is not in Greenville. It’s in Howard City, due to the (US) 131 expressway. We have the same opportunities for the rest of the county. Agriculture will be one of the top goals for The Right Place.”
“I hear that from you every day, John,” Blanding retorted. “I’d like to have you show me where that (agriculture) creates jobs.”
“I think there’s some farmers out here who are employing as many people as the manufacturers in Greenville,” Johansen responded.
Commissioner Ron Braman of Vestaburg asked whether Alliance officials have considered putting an economic development funding proposal on November’s ballot.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in my district about this,” he said. “They’re not against it. They’re against PA 88 because they feel like they’re getting it jammed down their throats. But if they vote on it, I feel sure it will pass.”
Clingenpeel said he thinks the Alliance should obtain local donations and investments first, show county residents it can be a success and then maybe put it on the ballot in several years.
Either way, Clingenpeel hopes the county will move forward with funding economic development.
“How long do we sit on this and not do it?” he asked. “How long do we see jobs go to Ionia and Newaygo and Gratiot while we sit here?”
“My opinion is you’ve got to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way,” responded Blanding.