Market One executive director testifies on importance of funding rural communities

Published 7:59 am Tuesday, June 11, 2024

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PAW PAW — On June 4, Zach Morris, Executive Director of Market One, testified in Lansing in front of the House Committee on Economic Development and Small Business about the importance of funding coming to rural communities, specifically from the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve fund. 

The House Economic Development and Small Business Committee took testimony this week on a major bill package to update the SOAR economic development fund. The testimony was overwhelmingly supportive, with over 95 cards submitted in support including local government groups, around 40 transit agencies, and economic development organizations. The package is on the agenda for Tuesday morning in House Small Business and Economic Development and a vote is expected to move the legislation on to the House floor.

The package would use $600 million annually in dedicated Corporate Income Tax revenue during the next 10 years split between business attraction, transit, housing, and community revitalization. The current debate is whether the SOAR fund will be used for major attraction projects or for other community development strategies and Morris shared his thoughts on the funding.

Morris’ testimony included the organization’s economic development goals that emphasizes the need for funding to proactively address challenges that are plaguing small cities, towns and villages in Cass and Van Buren counties. He addressed the most pressing issues plaquing rural communities such as: affordable housing, downtown revitalization, industrial site readiness, and population declines.

“I played 11-man football at Decatur, many of the small rural towns we played against like Gobles, Hartford, Lawrence and Marcellus are now either playing 8-man football or struggling to field a team. This is telling of where rural communities’ populations are today and the need to reinvest in them.” Morris stated. 

He went on to address the Governor’s population initiative. 

“We share in the Governor’s desire to increase our population. However, if we are to meet her goals, then we need to ensure all parts of our state are ready to welcome people back to, or for the first time, to the Great State of Michigan. I can assure you, not everyone wants to live in a big city, many will want to live in our quaint small towns with rich histories.“

Market One is currently partnering with the Office of Rural Development and Van Buren County on a housing study that is due to come out this summer. Morris went on to address the need for supporting growing industries with affordable housing. 

“We need to add brand new housing stock. Our current estimates have us short several thousand housing units in Cass and Van Buren counties,” Morris said. “I have company presidents, who are leading growing businesses, pleading with me and municipal leaders to find housing developers. However, the cost to acquire the land, install streets, water, sewer, electric, gas, and fiber is prohibitive. We need more up-front-money to support residential property development, combining it with expanding Tax Increment Financing laws would help rural communities become relevant again.”

The legislature and the executive branch are currently working through their budget for the fiscal year 24-25. Decisions on SOAR and other funding packages are expected to coincide with budget negotiations taking place currently in Lansing.  

About Market One

Market One is a nonprofit focused on connecting people, investments, and organizations with strategies and services that improve the quality of life and economic conditions in Cass and Van Buren counties. Our staff focuses on developing strategies that will allow our communities to thrive by addressing needs related to workforce, community, and business development. For more information, visit, like us on Facebook, follow us on LinkedIn, or on Instagram at @Market1edo.