River Country Journal
Celebrating and Nurturing Life in Southwest Michigan's River Country



All Stories

October 5, 2011

Partnership between St. Joseph County EDC and Southwest Michigan First under consideration

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:






One Comment


  1. unbefrickenlieveable

    From the article “…….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…..”

    OK…I’ll ask the dumb question…. So we get 3 people to focus on economic issues in our County and various support staff to those 3 dedicated folks that we are on the hook for $1.5 million to cover the next 5 yrs at least this year ($300k x 5 yrs = $1.5 million except in this county on occasion)…

    So what specific issues will these 3 dedicated people work on, what is the potential return on that investment for this $1.5 million and what is the forecast timeline for that return on investment. Or are we going to define this in similar fluffy terms in what we get in return as was was in a previous proposal with some prospective partners in Indiana.

    I mean we can talk in terms of spending, and nebulous terms like dedicated personnel, partnering, etc….but cut to the chase. You want X amount of dollars for economic development–its a simple request to understand what we get for that return of investment, what is the timeline for that development to start kicking in and the guesstimated payback timeframe. Otherwise without such metrics and defining success in ambiguous terms…then how do we know if any initiatives are working as a direct result of such initiatives.

    And if this partnership seems to have better resources, then would it perhaps be more advantageous from a cost-benefit perspective and cut out the middle man. In other words if these folks are doing what the EDC is supposed to be doing, what exactly does our EDC bring to the party and do we need them (since it sounds like much of the real legwork is being perhaps outsourced via this so called partnership anyway. It would perhaps seem at least reasonable to change the meaning of EDC to Economic Delegation Corporation….under such an arrangement.

    Incubator feasibility…OK $75,000 is for special projects and an incubator feasibility study. How much is for the projects and how much for the feasibility study. I just read about one costing like $23,500 from an EDC board members company conducted for one of our local municipalities…so for a county level it sounds like they might be kinda expensive in which case you may have little for special projects. Any thoughts who might do this feasibility study?

    And if it does end up being alot for the feasibility study…..Here’s my concern based on experience with feasibility studies… the outcome is typically one of a couple of possibilities…either the feasibility study recommends that we should “do something” that usually means spending lot’s more than the feasibility study itself -or- you just spent all that money on a feasibility study to do nothing with it in which case…you get nothing but some pretty expensive paper. And feasibility studies recommendations are only as good as the assumptions they are based on…I have found that the real situation vs the upfront assumptions usually are in stark contrast and thus drive either the drive the upfront cost assumptions more than was was estimated -and/or- the return on that investment is in reality diminished from the assumptions…often its a little of both…So we end up taken down a path that we end up spending more than we planned and in return we get less than what we planned…..so hopefully whatever they are contemplating for this feasibility study I hope it’s one that’ll work.

    In any case considering what they are asking for insofar as increases compared to their typical appropriation from the County…it’s a pretty meaningful expansion of that little empire.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>