Over snacks and drinks, our group of five had been immersed in a lively conversation about the benefits of living downtown. As we left Grand River Marketplace, Leslie Youngdahl chimed in with a laugh, “I’m going to walk home now.” Youndahl, the only 20-something among us, was just a few short blocks away from her downtown Jackson apartment. She knew the rest of us would have to climb into our cars and burn up some expensive gasoline to get home.
An hour earlier, we had all attended a public forum on Jackson’s new Anchor Initiative, a placemaking program designed to revitalize the city’s historic downtown and attract millennial talent. The forum was presented by Allan Hooper, state director for community economic development at Consumers Energy, and Hendrik Schuur, treasury director for Allegiance Health. Along with Youngdahl, Consumers’ community development program manager, they represented Jackson’s two largest anchor institutions.
In January, Consumers and Allegiance joined forces to get the Anchor Initiative off the ground. The program’s three-pronged approach stresses the value of living, investing and innovating locally. It also emphasizes the important role that private sector anchor institutions can play in developing the physical, social and economic conditions that can help the city thrive.
To solidify the initiative, Consumers and Allegiance are recruiting other local businesses to join in the effort by committing to these actions:
- Invest in an independent 501c3 organization focused on developing and implementing anchor strategies.
- Consider a rental incentive to encourage employees to live downtown – $100/month for up to two years.
- Participate in aggregating needs for hotel space and extended stay apartments to create the scale needed to stimulate a viable mixed-use development.
- Consider implementing year-round co-op style internships to support a downtown rental market.
- Participate in aggregating purchasing to support a buy local initiative that creates a more robust supply base.
- Be active in engaging their millennial generation workers in a Jackson young professionals organization.
To date, about 13 local businesses have expressed support for the program, including Alro Steel, Dawn Food Products, Eaton Corporation, and TAC Manufacturing.
The Anchor Initiative’s first prong – live locally – is designed to attract more millennials to live in downtown Jackson. Their presence would provide local businesses with the talented young workforce they need as well as encourage the development of more market-rate rental housing downtown.
“We like the convenience factor of being able to walk or ride a bike to work. We like to be near restaurants because we don’t cook much – we’re always on the go. And there are things going on downtown that we want to be involved with and make an impact,” said Youngdahl, referring to her fellow millennials, many of whom belong to the new Jackson Young Professionals group.
This aspect of the initiative is modeled after Live Midtown, a live-where-you-work rent incentive program in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood. Participating Jackson companies will offer their employees a rent incentive to live downtown, probably about $100 per month for a period of about two years. “We’re confident that there’s a tipping point,” said Hooper. “Once people start living downtown, they’ll keep living there.”
Consumers and Allegiance anticipate beginning the rent incentives this Fall. Other companies are expected to start offering them early next year.
The second prong of the initiative – invest locally – is designed to boost Jackson’s economy and tackle the high commercial vacancy rate downtown. Efforts will be made to promote investing and buying local, encourage increased local purchasing by anchors, and entice anchors’ vendors to invest in a downtown location.
The third prong – innovate locally – involves capitalizing on the needs of Jackson’s anchor institutions. An emphasis on their specialties, purchasing power, and skill and technology needs can offer opportunities for entrepreneurship.
The Anchor Initiative recently announced that Hooper has been selected as the organization’s first executive director. He will be retiring from Consumers Energy to assume this new position.