Friday, July 18, 2008

Leland Township Economic Development

Preparing for next Thursday's Leland Township Candidate Night, I asked my brother, Chris Wendel, to give me some ideas on attracting and building "right sized" businesses in our township. I believe that doing so will be critical as gas prices make living here and commuting to Traverse City less and less appealing. I am cutting and pasting from his email so I can get myself off to work:

Attracting entrepreneurial businesses and employment is many times dependent on zoning. For example, the perception in the Traverse City economic development community is that Leland Township was too slow in accommodating needed zoning changes for One Up Web. They intended on expanding in Lake Leelanau but the process became bogged down even with patient deadlines from their owner and they moved on to Grelickville.

The township at last look has only one manufacturing zoned area; at the former sawmill facility where Baa Baa ZuZu is located. Any company that had aspirations of opening a light manufacturing business in Leland Township would quickly realize that the land available for light manufacturing is very limited and move on.

The recent advent of the internet presents tremendous opportunities for attracting “knowledge based” employment. They fall under the following categories:

1. Professionals that can work remotely from Leland Township for companies or corporations located outside the region. They can live here year-round, place children in the local schools, and not take up space on our roads with their “telecommuting”.
2. Self-employed people who discover a niche and open or operate internet based businesses that sell products or services to a worldwide internet audience.
3. Retail business that use the internet to sell their products to a wider audience outside the region, or develop a unique product line that can be sold to broad internet audience.
4. Value added agricultural products that are sold online or to a wider audience. IE. Kejara’s Bridge in Lake Leelanau has gone away from its walk in restaurant concept and sells is hummus and other food products on the internet and to Whole Foods grocery stores downstate. Wineries and existing roadside markets are other examples.

Overall, here are some possible considerations:

1. Collaborations with the owner of a commercial building and the township to set up a small business incubation center. This could be a small space at a centralized location that offers inexpensive office space, business resources, high speed internet, and regular business consulting from my group (SBTDC) and SCORE to encourage small business growth. These could also be businesses that people start on the side while keeping their regular or seasonal employment. If the business grows than the transition can be made into full time self-employment. SBTDC and SCORE services are free but go unnoticed and underutilized in Leland Township and Leelanau County. I would be quite interested in working with the township on this.
2. Leelanau County now has an Economic Development Fund for small businesses that show the potential to grow and add employees. Having an awareness of and presence with the Leelanau County EDC is important.
3. Increase awareness in the township that the 20-35 age group is growing in Leelanau County and will continue to grow steadily in the next 5-10 years.
4. Making accessible, affordable internet a priority for the township and county.
5. Collaboration with the two township schools (St. Mary’s and Leland) and MSU Extension to further encourage youth entrepreneurship in the township.
6. Use and celebrate the examples of other area businesses that have thrived with selling products and services in innovative ways.( Cherry Republic quickly comes to mind, $7 million in sales last year, half of which comes from mail-order and internet sales, 15% of their internet sales come from people who have never been to Leelanau County. Baa baa ZuZu has grown over 30% in one year and sells to over 200 galleries nationally out of the back door of their warehouse type facility).
7. Consider starting a business development authority, staffed by volunteer retirees, business people, and local economic development personnel. This group would work to improve the business climate and publicize the business opportunities (once they improve) in Leland Township.
8. The distribution channels of CSAs should be acknowledged as well. Agriculture in its ever evolving forms will be critical to the controlled growth and future economic success of the township.
9. Have the wherewithal to work past the naysayers and contrarians that don’t want anything to happen in Leland and the surrounding areas. Theses are many times retired people who don’t want and just don’t get progress.

The key is to create an environment that is friendly to these entrepreneurial pursuits and encouraging the collaboration from all community groups including the Leland Public School, St. Mary’s School, 4-H, MSU Extension, NMC, SBTDC, SCORE, Leelanau County Chamber, Leland Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Land Use Institute an others. There are plenty of resources out there that are underutilized. The solution for the township will not be a larger company locating in the township but smaller businesses that can develop thrive and increase their employee bases as they go along.
Chris is Assistant Director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center in Traverse City.

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