Grand-River-Marketplace-bannerOver 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.

Anchor-Initiative-300x200In 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.

Mechanic-St-3-womenThe 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.



As the League has traveled around the state of Michigan, we’ve seen numerous shining examples of creative placemaking in communities large and small. The stories behind these placemaking efforts were so inspirational that we wanted to share them with the world.The result is our new book, “The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities.”

This book goes beyond placemaking as a concept, to offer real-world examples of economic drivers and agents of social and cultural change in Michigan’s own backyard. They represent some of the many place-based catalysts that can spark the kind of transformational changes that reinvent and revitalize a community, with tangible payoffs in terms of livability, social and cultural enrichment, and economic development. But most of all, they show us that placemaking is an art not a science, and displays itself in as many shapes, sizes and colors as a community can imagine.

Each page takes the reader on a virtual journey across the state to discover how these large and small efforts have transformed communities. Get a taste of how Baroda and Paw Paw have cultivated the local wine industry into a growing tourist attraction. Feast your eyes on Traverse City’s Film Festival and Ludington’s Sculpture Garden that bring in art aficionados from near and far. Get ready to pedal through scenic pathways, like Oakland County’s Paint Creek Trail and Marquette’s Noquemanon Trails Network—along with thousands of others who frequent the trails as well as the surrounding communities. Kick your civic engagement practices over the goal line as you read Detroit’s playbook on using sports and food to bring the community together. Many more stories like these fill the pages of the book.

These in-depth case studies are presented as storytelling narratives meant to engage and inspire readers with the power of placemaking. But they are also intended to provide a path to replicate their successes. Each chapter includes valuable resources, data and teaching tools related to the specific topic.  Each chapter will also include case-specific examples of Public Policies and Programs, Legislation, Action Initiatives, Community Partnerships, and Economic Drivers that can facilitate similar efforts.

More details on the book, including ordering information, are available here.


MSAE-Diamond-Awards-group-shotThree new awards are now proudly on display at the League’s Ann Arbor office following the recent 2014 Diamond Awards Dinner for the Michigan Society of Association Executives.The awards program recognizes excellence, innovation, and achievements in the association industry and honors outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the association profession.

This year, the spirited awards competition had 38 entries in ten categories within two budget divisions. The League was honored for its efforts in the following areas:

  • The Review magazine won a Diamond Award, the highest level, in the magazine publishing category for associations with budgets of $1 million and greater.
  • – and all of the League’s crowdfunding partnerships and efforts – won a Diamond Award in the innovative collaboration category.
  • The Great Revenue Sharing Heist informational campaign won a Gold Award in the government relations project category.

“The Diamond Award represents the best of the best in Michigan’s association industry,” said Cheryl Ronk, CAE, CMP, president and CEO of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. “Michigan Municipal League’s innovative collaboration through crowdfunding and its magazine, The Review, are now exemplary models for other associations to borrow brilliance. Congratulations again to the Michigan Municipal League!”

The League is no stranger to winning awards in the MSAE competition. Last year, the The Review won a Diamond Award and the website won Gold. In 2012, the League won two Diamond Awards and the Strategic Association Leader for CEO Dan Gilmartin. And in 2009, the Legislative Link e-Newsletter earned a Diamond Award and our website took home Gold.

We are proud to see the work of our staff be recognized in such a highly-prestigious competition. Good work, team!

As soon as we stepped out of the airport and onto the nearby platform for MAX Rail, my colleague Sarah Craft and I knew we weren’t in Detroit anymore. For only $2.50, this clean, quick, quiet light rail system whisked us to downtown Portland, where we got off just a block from our hotel – and the site of the National League of Cities State League Staff Workshop.


Live music at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland

Along the ride, several locals noticed our suitcases and engaged us in friendly conversation, asking us where we were from, where we were going, and pointing out local landmarks. We passed a farmer’s market, gatherings of food trucks, public plazas designed for concerts and other fun community activities, and walkable streets filled with people streaming in and out of stores, restaurants and offices. In short, we saw placemaking in action.

All of this set the stage for the State League Staff Workshop, the reason for our visit to Portland. We were part of a large contingent of league staffers from around the country who had come to learn and share their knowledge. As a first-timer, I discovered that state leagues come in all sizes – some as small as 2 or 3 staff members – but we all have the same dedication to the cities and towns we represent.


Right off the bat, I was impressed with the generosity of my fellow workshop participants. At the Communications Networking Roundtable, everyone chimed in with questions and suggestions on everything from convention and video apps to social media strategies. When we broke into sessions, league staffers shared successes and lessons learned on a number of topics. One of my favorite sessions was on PR. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns showcased their Arizona Cities @ Work PR campaign, designed to highlight the great work being done in their cities. Samantha Womer and Rene Guillen brought plenty of campaign “bling” – mugs, tote bags, lanyards and more – which they gladly offered to everyone in the room.

My other favorite session was Don’t Reinvent Content … Reuse, Recycle, Reformat for Maximum Impact. Mary Brantner of the Municipal Association of South Carolina and Jennifer Stamps of the Texas Municipal League made the point that people generally need to see or hear something seven times to really get the message. They then shared ideas on how to publish content in a variety of formats on different platforms to meaningfully reach your members.


Voodoo Doughnut

When I wasn’t engaged in a session, I took the opportunity to explore a little of downtown Portland. Just a block away was Pioneer Courthouse Square, affectionately known as Portland’s Living Room. This urban park hosts events almost every day of the year. I was lucky enough to enjoy live lunchtime music one day and sand sculptures the next day. Since there is no sales tax in Oregon, I made a quick dash into Macy’s and snapped up some summer bargains. I relished the local cuisine at Bottle & Kitchen and Clarklewis Restaurant. And, oh yeah, I definitely made a side trip to Portland’s infamous Voodoo Doughnut. At the 3rd Avenue location, placemaking had turned the alley alongside the shop into an inviting space with picnic tables and attractive landscaping. I soaked up the morning sun at one of those tables as I munched on a yummy chocolate-glazed old fashioned doughnut.