EDC board adopts goals, strategy for future growth

Under the direction of a new board president and with a new strategic plan in place, the leadership of the Cass County Economic Development Corporation is more focused than ever on creating and retaining local jobs.

The EDC board convened for its first meeting of 2016 Wednesday morning at the county annex in Cassopolis, where its members approved of a new strategic plan to guide the corporation over the next several years. The plan outlines several goals and objectives for the economic development organization to to focus on over the next five years in order to facilitate continued business growth throughout the county.

The passage of the new plan follows nearly six months of development by the EDC. Beginning last August, the board and other business owners and professionals in the region worked with Southwest Michigan First, a regional economic development organization, to come up with priorities the leadership should pursue moving forward.

Among the chief objectives now facing the corporation is securing funding to hire a full-time staff member — an experienced coordinator capable of running the day-to-day operations of the corporation.

“You need to have that basic staffer, someone in-house to execute and implement your strategy,” said Troy Clay, chairperson of the EDC.

The EDC currently contracts out these obligations to Niles’ Southwestern Michigan Economic Growth Alliance (SMEGA). The limited amount of funding provided to the EDC through the county only allows SMEGA staff to work one day a week, Clay said.

Clay anticipates the EDC would need to secure at least $200,000 per year to pay for staffing, he said.

Another goal the corporation has is the creation of a detailed database of available properties, which can be used to help existing Cass County businesses determine where they can expand and to attract new companies looking to establish a presence in the area. By using a concise content management system to catalog these assets, the EDC won’t have to scramble to assemble data whenever they are courting a prospective client, Clay said.

“By the time you finally find that information, they’re off talking to someone in Knoxville, Tennessee,” Clay said.

The EDC will also be looking to develop a way to “brand” Cass County, talking with local stakeholders to determine how the county can best market itself to outside business interests, Clay said.

In order to accomplish these tasks, the EDC will need to find additional forms of funding on top of the $20,000 they receive annually from the county, Clay said. The board envisions a private-public model to help them secure these additional assets, with businesses and local governments working together to fund EDC initiatives.

“This isn’t something where we’re saying ‘hey, we need more funding,’” Clay said. “We’re making an investment.”

The meeting was the also the first one led by Clay, who took over leadership of the board from Harry Shaffer earlier this year. The president of Mno-Bmadsen, the economic development firm of the Pokagon Band, Clay said his new position will allow him to continue to work with other leaders interested in seeing the Cass County economy prosper, he said.

“When you see job creation and investment, you’ll have an improvement to the quality of life throughout the county,” Clay said.

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