U.P. economic leaders push for rural-focused state cabinet position

Published: Jan. 30, 2020 at 10:04 AM EST
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Economic leaders from Upper Michigan want the state to create an administrative position that focuses on rural communities and families.

The Rural Affairs and Development Coalition is kicking off its push for a cabinet-level position Thursday afternoon at the state Capitol -- one day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's State of the State address.

As Michigan's economic recovery continues, the coalition says the state's rural communities and families – representing more than 20 percent of state population – remain left behind, according to research conducted by Jean Hardy, a researcher and doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. Evidence of rural decline spans nearly every issue, including health care delivery, opioid and drug abuse, infrastructure, education, employment, school funding, property values, municipal debt and cyber access.

Coalition members set to speak at a press conference Thursday in Lansing include InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante and Lake Superior Community Partnership CEO Amy Clickner. Speakers will touch on the issue itself, research on the topic, and what solutions are proposed to grow and stabilize rural Michigan.

The Rural Affairs and Development Coalition was formed by the Lake Superior Community Partnership, InvestUP and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance on the premise that despite the state’s emergence from the recession a decade ago, many rural areas have been even slower to recover, and nearly all are losing population, especially in key workforce age demographics.

The coalition says many of the programs and incentives the state uses to target and grow major business are not well suited for rural communities and businesses. Rural areas need to thrive to maintain quality of life, retain businesses and residents, and attract new talent and job providers across the state for the two million Michiganders that live in these areas. By doing so, the coalition believes it can make the most out of Michigan.