Market Van Buren report outlines county’s pluses and minuses for future economic growth

Paul Garrod -

    PAW PAW - The future economic growth of Van Buren County is seen with its advantages,  as well as disadvantages that can be overcome, according to a report from the executive director of Market Van Buren.
    Zach Morris told the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners’  Committee of the Whole(COW) Tuesday afternoon that the county has numerous advantages that position it well to benefit from three tiers of markets. The three tiers are:
    •Within 15 minutes of two mid-sized cities, Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor;
    •Less than an hour from two larger metropolitan areas, Grand Rapids and South Bend; and,
    •Approximately two hours from the major markets of Chicago and Detroit-Ann Arbor.
    Morris said the county has an impressive amount of businesses that have been in operation between 50 to 100  years.
    “These firms serve as economic  stabilizers for the region and continued efforts must be made to support the retention of these businesses,” said Morris.
    Morris said federal and state grants focused on four key areas are recommended to spur  additional economic development in  the county. Those areas include:
    •Economic development grants to support workforce training and retooling in preparation for the Palisades closure;
    •High-speed internet expansion for the county since this would be a major catalyzing force for increasing the opportunity to attract workforce and new businesses;
    •Site development grants to support business park development for expanding and relocation businesses, and,
    •Industry-specific grants that would support industry clustering in the advanced manufacturing, food manufacturing, and health sciences industries.
    Morris said the county has an “unusually high percentage of occupational experience and business presence in several industry clusters that are associated with medium to high paying jobs, including:
    •Food and beverage manufacturing;
    •Machinery manufacturing;
    •Metals manufacturing;
    •Plastics manufacturing and,
    •Health science and biopharmaceuticals.
    However, Morris said the county faces two major challenges - lack of a sizeable work force in the region, and high levels of social  vulnerability.
    In improving workforce numbers, Morris said the variety, pricing and quality of the housing stock will serve as an incentive for talent to  relocate within Van Buren County.
    To improve social vulnerability, Morris said investing in early childhood education, vocational training and employer-engaged workforce training were several ways to help increase incomes, thus reducing  social vulnerability.
    Following the COW meeting commissioners during the Board of Commissioners (BOC)  meeting, approved a memorandum of agreement with MSU Extension Office.
    The agreement includes a base assessment of $62,771; 50 percent additional 4-H educator, $32,684; 40 percent additional agriculture & agribusiness educator, plus 20 percent additional consumer horticulture/veterans liaison, $63,465.
    The board also approved a motion to accept an additional $10,000 in grant funding for the Office of Community Corrections (OCC) for Fiscal Year 2019.
    The OCC exceeded its enrollment in pretrial supervision prior to the six-month mark. The OCC was awarded the additional grant funding on Sept. 5.
    The board also adopted its 2019-2020 General Fund Budget  that anticipates a General Fund balance of $6,532,980 on Sept. 30, 2019, revenues and expenditures of $24,049,140, providing a fund balance of $6,532,980 on Sept. 30, 2020.

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