Into the fold
Addition of Shiawassee to Lansing region brings beneficial opportunities
Talk about expansion: In September, the federal government issued a decision that caused the Lansing region to grow by 70,000 people.
On Sept. 14, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget announced the addition of Shiawassee County to the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) of the tri-county region comprised of Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties. As a newly designated “quad region,” the Lansing area’s population has grown to well over the half-million mark – from 477,656 to 546,102 residents – in the matter of a memo.
What will this mean for the future relationship between these two areas? For economic development professionals in the city of Lansing and Shiawassee County, the new MSA designation will begin opening opportunities for collaboration between the regions. It puts an official stamp on a relationship that, for many, was already in place.
According to Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), Shiawassee County was added to the Lansing region’s MSA because a certain ratio of its population was commuting more to Lansing than anyplace else.
“That is a critical determining factor in how they calculate what makes up a region or MSA,” Trezise said. “It drove the statistical decision by the federal government to expand our MSA.”
Trezise said the development is a turning point for the region.
“Primarily, it’s a very important marketing moment for us. Because our region has been at pretty stagnant growth for the last 60, 70, 80 years, we’ve been around 440,000 people for a long time,” he said. “So, when we’re marketing our region to companies from around the world, when we’re trying to talk people into moving to our region, it’s very advantageous for us to describe ourselves as a region well over half a million. From a marketing perspective, it’ll really help us attract business and people to our region, we think.”
Aside from the marketing possibilities, Trezise said the new designation will also help organizations in the region by obtaining additional grants and eligibility for programs.
“We think for numerous public and private organizations, they might find themselves qualifying for better or higher levels of grants and programs because of our increased population size,” he said. “Very typically for programs and initiatives, they ask you what your MSA population and demographics are. Typically, the bigger you are, the more money you can get.”
There are other potential effects, although at this time Trezise noted they are merely speculative. For example, he is looking at other ways Shiawassee County could be incorporated into the region. The governor has divided the state of Michigan into 10 economic development regions, called prosperity regions. Currently, region No. 7 represents Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties.
“There hasn’t been any conversation about this,” Trezise said, “but at some point, you wonder whether Shiawassee County would be added to region seven. That would be a state decision to make.”
If that were the case, he said, the ramifications would be that LEAP would be obligated to serve Shiawassee County with all of its programs and services in addition to Eaton, Ingham and Clinton counties.
“So that would be a whole new and interesting economic development relationship, organizationally. No one has talked about that yet, but that is speculative. But, sometimes those prosperity regions are designed around what an MSA looks like,” Trezise explained.
Finally, Trezise noted another speculation about Shiawassee County potentially becoming a part of region seven is how it might open other conversations about agencies and services provided by the state. Regardless, the organizations that will be working together moving forward are LEAP and the Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership (SEDP).
Justin Horvath is president and CEO of SEDP, and Trezise considers him a friend and one of the top economic development officials in the state. Horvath shares the enthusiasm for the federal government’s recent decision.
“We’re obviously very excited about this opportunity,” Horvath said. “I’ve known Bob for many years. I’ve been doing this for 16 years and I met Bob when he was working for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. years ago. LEAP is a great organization and well-regarded statewide. Having an opportunity to potentially work with Bob and his team is certainly something that I’m interested in and our organization as a whole is interested in.”
It did not surprise Horvath when the federal government’s decision was made.
“More of our residents go to the Lansing area every day than any other county out there,” Horvath explained. “I didn’t know the federal government was going to be making this designation, but when I heard about it, it made total sense to me. We have a number of great ties there. The question obviously now is, what does that open up?”
Both Horvath and Trezise agreed that is the phase in which their relationship is currently, as they meet with each other’s respective organizations to figure out the next steps moving forward. One obvious focal point for joining forces in the future is marketing the M-21 corridor.
“We share M-21 as a corridor,” Trezise said. “M-21 actually is an amazing ag-tech-looking corridor right now. LEAP just landed two plants in St. Johns. And there are big ones in Shiawassee County. And there are big ones to the west of St. Johns. Should we all be marketing and branding that corridor together as a prime corridor for ag-tech development?”
That is the kind of regional collaboration Horvath said he supports.
“From my county’s standpoint, we are all about regionalism,” Horvath said. “That is a top priority for us. We don’t believe in going it alone. Quite honestly, we don’t even market just our county. We’re a small county, and rather than trying to put ourselves on the map, we believe in regional partnerships. We’ve had great success with many of them.”
The new designation appears to be mutually beneficial for both areas. Horvath sees the potential for the residents of Lansing to learn more about Shiawassee County.
“I think people in the Lansing area are going to be pleasantly surprised about the level of economic activity happening out here,” Horvath said. “People have viewed us as that big piece of farmland between Lansing and Saginaw, but the reality is we have a major business base here. We have a major manufacturing base — health care, agriculture, technology — that maybe flies under the radar. I think being able to partner with a more visible organization might allow the opportunity to get a little more visibility to those economic opportunities we have here.”
What this new partnership between the Lansing region and Shiawassee County officially looks like is yet to be determined; however, for Horvath and Trezise, the new MSA designation formalizes something that has been there all along.
“Shiawassee County, they feel like they’re part of our region already,” Trezise said. “These are our neighbors, friends, and a lot of our business and daily truck traffic is crossing that border. A lot of people live in those areas and commute here. Their people and their businesses are quite tied into the Lansing region already.”
“At the end of the day, it will be a win-win for everyone involved,” Horvath explained. “I have no doubt we’ll get there.”