Covering 14 counties, along with the Saginaw metropolitan area and the sovereign Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, the East Michigan Council of Governments (EMCOG) region is incredibly diverse in terms of its geography, demographics, and economic base. As a result, EMCOG’s comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) must account for the wide range of issues, barriers, and obstacles that are faced by its member communities. The preparation of the organization’s 2021-2025 CEDS was hampered by an additional set of challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic (which was expanding around the globe as the planning process got underway in January 2020) and a major spring flooding event that caused the failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams, causing massive destruction and property loss in Midland and Gladwin Counties. The immense economic and personal toll of these crises shed light on some of the region’s most pressing issues.
TIP Strategies was engaged by EMCOG to prepare a strategy that encompassed the region’s long-term goal of developing a resilient, inclusive, and prosperous economy, while addressing the immediate needs presented by the economic and environmental disasters in the region. The plan also met the requirements set forth by the US Economic Development Administration to maintain EMCOG as the region’s recognized Economic Development District. In addition to a review of current conditions in the region (comprised of Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Iosco, Isabella, Midland, Ogemaw, Roscommon, Saginaw, Sanilac, and Tuscola Counties), TIP used remote tools to solicit broad-based input from members of the regional CEDS committee and from over 250 individuals through dozens of virtual roundtables and personal interviews. The CEDS was organized around five of the most pertinent objectives identified by leaders and stakeholders: making strategic infrastructure investments (including broadband), building on regional workforce collaborations, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, expand placemaking efforts to benefit residents and attract tourists, and supporting regional business development and marketing efforts. As part of this work, the team also updated the region’s dashboard, originally developed by TIP as part of a regional prosperity planning initiative in 2014.