Leaders talk economic growth

From the Escanaba Daily Press

ESCANABA – State leaders, including the Governor, testified at a Senate hearing in Escanaba Thursday, each supporting legislation for an economic development district in Delta and Marquette counties.

Three senators on the seven-member Senate Economic Development Committee participated in the local hearing. Though a quorum was not present, each expressed support for creation of a "Next Michigan Development District" to promote economic growth in the two-county area.

There are five "micropolitan" districts downstate eligible for state funding and tax incentives to encourage economic development. Senate bills 397 and 398 propose to amend the law to allow the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to add a district tailored for the central U.P.

Sen. Mike Kowall, of downstate White Lake, chaired the hearing, telling those in attendance that the proceeding was being held in Escanaba to bring Lansing to the people.

At the session's conclusion, Kowall said the committee will vote the two Senate bills out of committee on Sept. 5 so the proposals can continue their way through the legislation process.

"I look forward to these things being done real soon," Kowall commented, later adding, "Michigan is on the comeback and looking forward to a brighter future."

Other committee members in attendance Thursday were Sen. Jim Ananich of Flint and Sen. Virgil Smith of Detroit. Dave Biswas, Kowall's legislative director, also assisted.

Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), who sponsored the Senate legislation, and Rep. John Kivela (D-Marquette), a sponsor of similar House bills, also sat on the panel to hear public testimony.

Two dozen individuals spoke at the hearing representing government, business and education sectors from Delta and Marquette counties as well as other areas in the U.P. and the state. Comments related to natural resources, agriculture, transportation, road maintenance, waterways, energy, and communication needs in the region.

Gov. Rick Snyder was the first to speak. He expressed his support for expanding economic opportunities in Michigan.

He specifically mentioned U.P. industries including mining, timber production, agriculture and manufacturing.

Snyder has been visiting the area during fair week. He praised local companies for their outstanding work but noted that young people continue to need more skilled training opportunities to meet workforce demands.

Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh expressed his support for improving the region's economy, offering specific projects underway such as trail expansions and waterway dredging.

DNR Chief of Forest Resources Bill O'Neill said that Michigan, especially the U.P., has an opportunity to be a real driver of economic development in the forest products industry. He added the state wants to partner with companies to help the industry become stronger.

Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant commented the state's natural resources are unique and make people want to work, live and visit here. Michigan's waterways are fundamental to national and world agriculture production, a trend that will increase, he added.

James McBryde, vice president of governmental affairs for the MEDC, said Snyder's administration and the agency "strongly support" the legislation for the economic development district in the U.P.

"This proposal relies on the total cooperation between Marquette and Delta counties," noted McBryde.