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MEDC official says economic opportunity waiting in U.P.

MARQUETTE — Economic development should involve the Upper and Lower peninsulas, the head of one of Michigan’s major economic organizations said.

Quentin Messer Jr., CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and president of the Michigan Strategic Fund, talked about how recent legislation is expected to help the state.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed the bipartisan Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve package to support small businesses and fully fund what the governor’s office called an “economic development tool kit” to make the state a national leader in attracting businesses.

Within that package of bills, Whitmer signed House Bill 4603 to create a $1 billion economic development fund to ensure Michigan can compete for billions of dollars in investment and attract tens of thousands of jobs to bolster the state’s economy, the governor’s office said.

She also signed Senate Bill 771 to create a $500 million fund to make Michigan’s economy more adaptable to the “rapid pace of technological change,” the governor’s office said, as well as support small businesses and create or retain good-paying jobs.

Whitmer also signed Senate Bill 79 to create a financing mechanism for the programs and Senate Bill 85 to provide full funding to deliver resources and provide direct assistance to small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Messer made note of the bipartisan aspect of the legislation.

“You saw the legislative and executive branches coming together to ensure that Michigan has the ability to say — to large companies, small companies, companies across a variety of industries — three things,” Messer said.

One of those three things is that site preparation — whether it be infrastructure or land aggregation — would not be a barrier to people or businesses investing in Michigan.

Another aspect, according to Messer, regards ensuring the state has the resources to creatively perform risk project investment.

However, he believes the most important part of the legislation revolves around future security.

“We want to make sure Michigan’s future is secure for families, for small business owners, for job candidates,” Messer said.

He noted that state officials acknowledge the pace of change that’s happening and whether it’s being driven by regulatory changes, including the federal push to transition to electric vehicles.

Other issues involve things such as supply chain challenges, as well as Michigan having competitive forestry and agribusiness industries.

“Michigan needs to make sure that we have the tools and resources to compete with not only 49 other U.S. states but the Canadian provinces as well as the Mexican states,” Messer said. “We need to be the best four-season economy in North America, and these tools are an important first step in making sure that we have the resources, and more importantly, that we send a very powerful message that we are ready to compete aggressively.”

The hope, he said, is that the legislation is successful enough that more funds will be needed for those additional resources.

Messer stressed that the normal process of being approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund within the Open Meetings Act will stay in place.

One U.P. project already has been earmarked for more funds.

Otie McKinley, media and communications manager for MEDC and Travel Michigan, said the Michigan Strategic Fund earlier this year approved the extension of a grant with Northern Michigan University’s Invent@NMU program, which supports students and regional entrepreneurs in launching their business ideas.

The grant was extended for one year with $320,000 in additional funding allocated.

“We’re excited to help continue and foster the entrepreneurial efforts happening at NMU,” McKinley said.

Messer said the new legislation will affect the Upper Peninsula in a number of ways.

“We have a very robust pipeline of opportunities in the Upper Peninsula,” said Messer, who plans to visit the U.P. in February. “We know that the Upper Peninsula is an important part of the state. It is a part of the state. You can’t discuss Michigan without talking about both peninsulas.

“The legislation allows us to have the resources, and more importantly, the nimbleness to respond to the project opportunities that we see throughout the state, and we have a number of projects in the pipeline that are in the U.P.”

However, Messer declined to elaborate on those U.P. projects in an effort to avoid negatively affecting their ability to come to fruition by having the state be removed from consideration due to premature discussion.

“The U.P. has assets — not only the tremendous hard-working work ethic and ethos,” he said. “It has tremendous educational institutions. It has tremendous scenic beauty. Companies large and small see the U.P. as a place where potentially they can grow and expand their businesses, and we want to make sure that that happens, and we’re actively pushing and aggressively marketing opportunities in the U.P.”

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