Cassopolis receives fellowship

CASSOPOLIS — Unlike some of the other communities that applied for one of 10 Community Economic Development Association’s Community Development Fellow, the village of Cassopolis was approached by another agency and urged to apply.

The Michigan Economic Development’s Redevelopment Ready Committee planner reached out to Cassopolis to encourage them to apply for the fellowship, just as they do with all the communities engaged with the Redevelopment Ready Committee programs.

With all of the projects that the village will have going on the remainder of 2020, Cassopolis village manager Emilie Sarratore took CEDAM up on its offer.

Cassopolis had to go through the application process and a designated review committee chose the village for the fellowship, The committee selects one community from each of the state’s prosperity regions.

The fellowship starts in mid-June for 15 months for approximately $64,000. The village had to contribute $6,000 with CEDAM paying the rest of the salary.

“Because we had so many amazing projects going on, it would be a great opportunity for a fellow to learn about local government and a great opportunity for the village to have another person on staff for pretty minimal dollars,” she said.

Cassopolis received a fellowship along with Cass City, Charlevoix, Frankenmuth, Mount Clemens, Oscoda Township, Shelby, St. Ignace, St. Johns and Ypsilanti.

In its second year, the fellowship is made possible through funding provided by its partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The program was developed to help communities that address a common challenge of a lack of sufficient capacity to achieve their economic development potential.

“Last year’s fellows made a significant impact on their communities, and we are excited for 10 new communities, all of whom are engaged in the Redevelopment Read Communities program, to benefit from the fellowship,” said Sarah Teater, program manager at CEDAM.

Western Michigan University graduate Alexis O’Flynn was chosen from 30 applicants from across the country. She will start in mid-June.

“She is kind of local, so that is great,” Sarratore said. “It is nice to have all hands on deck. We will have another person to be here and help us with some projects in the community, and there was very little that we had to pay for that. We are looking forward to having her here.”

O’Flynn, who graduated from WMU in the spring of 2018, is originally from Canton, but she and her family are migrating to the west side of the state.

She was chosen by committee made up of the CEDAM coordinator for the area, the Redevelopment Community Coordinator, Sarratore, village clerk Tonia Betty and Department of Public Works Supervisor and Street Administrator Ben Anderson. The interviews were conducted over Zoom in order to maintain proper social distancing.

The field was narrowed to eight applicants during a first round of interviews. The candidates were reduced to four applicants for the second round of interviews.

“One of our big components was marketing and social media, something that we really want to work on at the village,” Sarratore said about one part of the interview process. “We have a lot going on, and we want to make sure we are communicating with our residents about what is happening, how the projects are coming and detours they might have to take.”

After a couple of weeks of interviews, O’Flynn was selected. She will join the village staff as an independent contractor after she completes some training with CEDAM.

O’Flynn is no stranger to Cassopolis. She worked for approximately two months on Pioneer Days after graduating from WMU with a double major in political science and communications.

“I had done an internship with Allegan County, and I was just looking to get some more experience,” she said. “I was going to be in the area that summer, so I helped out a little bit with that.”

After that, she returned to her hometown and worked at another job in another field until hearing about the CEDAM opportunity.

“I was super excited because I already knew about Cassopolis and that they had a ton of awesome things going on,” she said. “Some really big projects that I heard about in their beginning stages. I am really excited to learn, but also be hands-on and do as much as I can to get things rolling here and help with those projects.”

Some of the things O’Flynn will specifically be working on will be the marketing for the village, the Neighborhood Enhancement grants and a training series for the staff, village council and commission boards, according to Sarratore.

“She will also be looking into housing project that was identified in our master plan,” Sarratore said. “She will be doing some research into that among a variety of other things that we have going on.”