November 5, 2015

The Morning Sun

Mt. Pleasant has been named a five-star community in an annual study that recognizes municipalities for work to foster entrepreneurial growth and economic development.

Conducted by researchers at iLabs (University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research), the eCities study surveyed 66 communities from 29 counties across the state that are home to more than 19 percent of Michigan residents and 10 percent of its college graduates.

“The eCities project highlights how local governments are working in distinct and strategic ways to energize public spaces, while investing in businesses and job development,” said Tim Davis, director of iLabs.

Participating communities account for nearly one-fifth of the state’s entrepreneurs who’ve earned more than $1.8 billion in self-employed income. More than 60 percent of these communities have a local business database, nearly a third provide business improvement grants, and nearly 40 percent have full-time economic development employees.

"This award shows just how far Mt. Pleasant has come in its economic development efforts. Today, we are seeing increased levels of investment in our main commercial corridors, on Mission and Pickard Streets, and downtown,” said Downtown Development Director Michelle Sponseller. “The growth we’re experiencing today is not by accident, but because public and private leaders understand what is necessary to create and sustain a great urban place.”

Davis said eCities is the group’s biggest project of the year, involving surveys from small towns to big cities in the state, and use data supplied by the participants as well as public records to assemble an index of entrepreneurial activity.

“Even with this success, we don’t want to rest on our laurels,” said Sponseller. “We always have to be evaluating what we’re doing right and what we can do to improve. That constant sense of ‘what we can do to get better?’ has to drive every decision we make to continue growing local investment.”

Sponseller said Mt. Pleasant officials are happy about the recognition and that it shows that it points to progress in economic development efforts.

Sponseller and City Planner Jacob Kain attended a ceremony last week at UM-Dearborn where 66 communities from 29 Michigan counties were honored; Mt. Pleasant was among 18 earning the top rating of five stars.

The number of communities in the study vary from year to year, according to Davis, because it’s voluntary participation; they’ve had from 60 to 115 participants before.

Kain said being honored with the five-star rating is a real testament to the hard work the city officials put into the community.

“Our continued recognition makes a case for folks to make investments in the community, which benefits everyone,” he said.

In addition to looking at Mt. Pleasant’s economic health and preparation for the future, iLabs also provide recommendations on how to improve their economic development, Sponseller said.

She added that the city applied to participate in the eCities study back in 2013 and received a five-star rating then as well.

Officials are hoping that this recognition will draw out-of-town developers to Mt. Pleasant, which can be anyone who wants to grow in the city; the possible future establishments can be anything from office spaces to retailers to restaurants to doctor’s offices.

Davis said without the study, there would be no single data resource where local governments could see how they’re doing economically compared to other cities; many cities don’t have the time to collect all that information.

The purpose of eCities is to help create a positive change and help communities throughout the state, Davis said; it’s a chance to learn from each other.

According to the details on Mt. Pleasant’s rating, the criteria for the rating are determined by six factors: Clustering, incentives, growth, policies, community and education.

Mt. Pleasant rated as three-stars in community; four-stars in clustering, growth and incentives; and five-stars in education.

The 66 communities that took part in the study this year make up more than 19 percent of Michigan residents and 10 percent of its college graduates, according to a Mt. Pleasant press release.

Additionally, the highly rated communities spent more than $3.4 million on economic development, had more than $3.1 million in addition to assets in the past year, and had more than $29 billion in combined real and personal property values.

Davis said some of the factors that gave any city five stars were that they have high levels of business in their downtown area and databases so they can communicate well with local businesses.

As they survey these cities, he said they also look at matters such as the communities’ tax rates, policies, building permits, whether there’s a change in personal property and the amount of money spent on construction.

Davis added that 90 percent of the cities with five stars would partner with other government agencies in order to successfully place make (a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces) and help their community grow.

“We’re thrilled to have communities across the state like Mt. Pleasant supporting entrepreneurship and local businesses,” he said. “Their involvement is a great sign for the business community.”

Besides Mt. Pleasant, 2015 Five-Star Cities include:

Cascade Charter Township, Coldwater, Dearborn, Delta Charter Township, Dexter, Grandville, Kochville Township, Marquette, Midland, Northville Charter Township, Novi, Pittsfield Township, Plymouth, Plymouth Township, Sault Ste. Marie, Troy and Wixom.