Flint leaders tout region as ‘transforming’ in state Senate Economic Development Committee meeting

From MLive.com by Jeremy Allen

FLINT, MI – Dozens of people gathered at St. Luke’s New Life Center in Flint on Friday, Sept. 13, as local economic and political officials and leaders from around the state praised the city’s redevelopment and revitalization efforts in presentations made to the State Senate Economic Development Committee.

“An exciting transformation is taking place in Flint,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said in his address to the committee.

“While known as a manufacturing center, Flint is establishing itself as a new kind of college town, a destination for medical sector companies, an intermodal and international hub for trade and transportation and a center of innovation.”

The economic development committee – made up of senators from across the state, including Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint – has taken its meetings from the Capitol in Lansing communities across the state including Escanaba, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit and now Flint.

The purpose of the meetings, said committee chairman, Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is to highlight the bright spots of economic development in cities as they redefine themselves and compete in a global market.

Ananich said that it was important to showcase what’s happening in Flint with the public-private partnerships and the development of the city’s master plan, among other revitalization efforts.

“We chose Flint and Genesee County, obviously, because we have a strong history of manufacturing, but we’re changing our economy and talking about some of the things we’re doing well and some of the challenges we have,” he said.

The committee chose to meet at St. Luke’s New Life because it serves as an epicenter for a lot of the change that the city hopes to replicate.

St. Luke’s is involved with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Community Ventures program – which sets aside $10 million in state and federal funds annually to train and provide full-time employment to the structurally unemployed.

The program at St. Luke’s is responsible for creating 27 full-time jobs for Flint residents and has made a commitment to create an additional 75 jobs within the next 18-22 months for city residents. Statewide, the Community Ventures program has provided jobs to 1,020 Michigan people since its launch on Oct. 1, 2012.

“When we started this some months ago, we only had nine people (with jobs at St. Luke’s). They now have 27 people who are employed and being paid – 27 people who were virtually unemployable just a summer ago,” said Phil Shaltz, owner of Shaltz Automation and business partner with St. Luke’s.

“One of the things we know about economic development is that we want to leverage our assets. What (the sisters at St. Luke’s) have done is create an asset. This is the type of development that will allow people to hone their skills and grow so they can go out and get other jobs within the community.”

Representatives from the University of Michigan-Flint, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College and Kettering University – the city’s largest land owner – all spoke about how the redevelopment of Flint has helped to improve their institutions, and what they’re doing to help in the revitalization.

Dr. Robert Simpson, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kettering, said that the university is taking steps to ensure that the city of Flint continues to grow because it also helps the Kettering do the same.

“Our goal is to clean up the blight to make the University Corridor from Kettering to downtown Flint walkable and we’ve taken steps by adding a state-of-the-art security system on campus, adding the police center and Einstein Bagel, and taking control of the nearly 11,000-seat Atwood Stadium,” he said.

In addition to the universities, representatives from the county’s medical institutions – Hurley, Genesys and McLaren – each spoke at the hearing. Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy’s CEO Phil Hagerman, who is also instrumental in creating jobs for St. Luke’s, spoke about his company’s role in economic development.

“In just a few short years we’ve gone from 295 employees  to more than 800 employees. We expect to be able to hire about 15 to 20 people a month for the next few years,” Hagerman said.

“And we’re hiring for a wide range of positions, so even people who start out at entry-level positions have the opportunity to earn $50-$60,000 by moving up within the company.”

Genesys’ CEO Betsy Aderholt highlighted the company’s new downtown Flint facility. She said that it was part of the company’s 10-year plan that will invest $600 million into the Flint area and provide thousands of permanent and temporary jobs. She said the investment aligns with Flint’s “Eds and Meds” outlook for developing and transforming into a hub for educational and medical sectors.

Other presenters included Kevin Sylvester, the communications director for Genesee County Drain Commissioner, who discussed the economic impact of the new Karegnondi Water Authority Pipeline; Kyle McCree, the director of business financing for the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, who discussed how the chamber provides support to its 1,000-plus members and the city as they look to reinvent the region; and representatives from the MEDC.

“Through our comprehensive master planning process – the first in more than 50 years – we imagine Flint as a city with a growing and diverse 21st century economy that spurs innovation and small business development and prepares our workforce for jobs that offer a livable wage and sustains a community with opportunity for all,” Walling said.

“We work hard every day to retain, attract and grow businesses right here in Flint, Genesee County and along the I-69 International Trade Corridor throughout mid-Michigan.”