Economic development in St. Joseph County was in the spotlight again Monday (October 3rd) during a St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners work session.
Up for discussion was a proposal from the St. Joseph County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for a partnership with Kalamazoo-based Southwest Michigan First.
As noted in minutes of the County Board’s Executive Committee meeting on September 30th, the EDC wants to contract with Southwest Michigan First and is requesting $300,000 a year from the county for an initial five-year period. Additionally, the EDC is requesting $75,000 for EDC special projects such as working with Michiana corridor counties, site certification program, and incubator feasibility study. The current annual appropriation to the EDC is $49,938.
Under the proposed arrangement, Southwest Michigan First would employ three people to concentrate on economic development-related initiatives primarily in St. Joseph County, as well as assistance from the remaining 22 staff people employed by Southwest Michigan First.
Commissioner Rick Shaffer noted Monday’s work session in his ‘Chairman’s Report’ during Tuesday’s County Board of Commissioners meeting and said he had asked County Administrator Judy West-Wing to post a copy of the EDC-Southwest Michigan First proposal on the county’s website (www.stjosephcountymi.org). He also indicated that it has been submitted to the county’s legal counsel – Cohl, Stoker & Toskey P.C. of Lansing – for review.
Shaffer discussed Monday’s work session and the EDC-Southwest Michigan First partnership during a post-meeting interview with Bruce Snook of the River Country Journal. In the conversation, he said the proposed arrangement “is attractive from the standpoint that it partners the county, our current economic development, and – of high credibility – Southwest Michigan First.” Shaffer said noted the conversations of recent months regarding a proposed partnership with Angola, Indiana-based Trine University and said, “With a concept of partnering with Southwest Michigan First, I believe it gives us the avenue to continue to move forward economic development for our county.”
Shaffer explained that concerns identified during Monday’s work session have been put in a letter to the attorney and said “the next step will be to bring back a recommendation from the attorney – does this fit how county funds can be spent because we had that whole discussion under the Trine proposal.” Shaffer said, “What I anticipate is, if that comes back approved from the attorney, then, formally, Southwest Michigan First will make an appeal to the entire commission where it’ll be discussed, public comment, etcetera and then either up or down vote.” Regarding the timeline for consideration of the proposed partnership, Shaffer said, “I would personally hope that we could have something in place by the beginning of budget year, January.”
To hear the interview with Rick Shaffer, click on the following link: Rick Shaffer interview (4:12 – 3.85 MB).
For additional insights regarding this topic, click on the following links to access stories by Terri Katz of the Sturgis Journal and Rick Cordes of the Three Rivers Commercial-News: