April 25, 2017
Lansing must do more to support our small businesses—especially those in commercial areas and corridors. This involves better coordinating our commercial centers to provide for collaboration (instead of competition) and allowing our commercial centers to utilize Business Investment Zones to help support self-initiated improvements. A Business Ombudsman could help new businesses get established and grow in our community, cutting through some of the red tape of government so that businesses can focus on providing their products/services and serving their customers. Use of Lansing’s development subsidies should be targeted and planned, with more information known up front about the benefits of a prospective project versus the taxes given up to make it happen. Before making them available, we also need compelling evidence that subsidies are crucial to spurring development. I am committed to ensuring that we have appropriate oversight on projects when tax dollars are given up or utilized and that Lansing’s local workers are helping in projects funded by taxpayer dollars.
Commercial areas, corridors, and a well-developed downtown are crucial to our economic development endeavors. Our approach must include urban grocery options, a variety of accommodations, acceptable regulations on marijuana dispensaries/provisioning centers, a commitment to keeping our city pristine, and a thoughtful commercial riverfront that maximizes one of Lansing’s most beautiful amenities. We must utilize placemaking to attract and retain talented workers, and this includes walkability, arts, parks, IT, and being a welcoming community to all. We should all be proud of the diversity in our community and make clear we value what people of all different cultures and backgrounds bring to Lansing culture and our growing economy.
Lansing has done a good job of attracting big businesses to our community (Blue Cross, Accident Fund, Jackson National) but we need to do more to assist our small businesses. In our downtown, we have hosted plenty of ribbon cutting ceremonies, but many of these businesses then leave after a short period of time (House of Eden Rock, Tom + Chee, Beer Grotto, Sarnie, etc.). The City needs to start adopting creative approaches to helping businesses set roots and continue to thrive in our downtown, as well as in REO town, Old Town, Michigan Avenue Corridor, Saginaw-Oakland Corridor, Cedar Corridor, Pennsylvania Corridor, MLK Corridor, and other commercial strips and centers. The City must also work closely with commercial associations throughout the city to help our small businesses. We should look to partner with the Lansing Community College business incubation program, as well as the Technology Innovation Center, the Hatch, and other resources at Michigan State University when possible. We also should continue, as possible, to utilize programs like Michigan Main Street to foster strong commercials districts that, in turn, support small businesses.
Lansing Open for Business: Business Ombudsman
We must send a signal to the business and development community that Lansing is open for business. This includes making it as easy as possible for business owners to become established and operate, as well as making sure developers are able to redevelop our city quickly. Economic growth helps everyone in Lansing. Revenues increase services for commercial areas and downtowns. More investment leads to more resources for public safety, parks, roads and sidewalks, and anything else that is important to Lansing residents, workers, and visitors. We need to publicly show that Lansing is open for business through our words and actions, and believe in this as a city.
Lansing’s business owners must address a plethora of issues (within a number of city departments) as they get established and grow in our community. These businesses, which generate revenue and provide amenities to our residents, want to focus on providing their products/services and on serving their customers—not on the red tape of government. One way to do this is utilizing a Business Ombudsman to assist our businesses with regulatory structure, business rules, planning and zoning, and other related issues. The ombudsman can assist people looking to invest in Lansing by walking them through the process in a “fast track” and “one stop” process. This person will have direct access to the Mayor as well as department heads and senior leaders in departments, will be accessible to business owners and help monitor the status of ongoing projects, and will maintain good relationships between government and business. The ombudsman will also work with the Lansing Economic Development staff, Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEEAP) staff, commercial associations, the Chamber of Commerce, and others to be effective yet avoid duplication. This person will have a checklist of areas that they can use to assist businesses, and could be able to assist when our businesses encounter issues with health insurance, occupancy and real estate costs, various employee costs, expediting plan review, assisting with liquor licenses, being a liaison to code compliance, permits, approvals, fees, incentives ,utility connections and so many other things that the business owner needs to work through prior to opening as well as when operating or expanding. In addition to cutting red tape, this person can help put together a schedule of how and when things will get done to ensure government is more efficient. Time is money, and this kind of attention to detail by government is imperative to business.
Lansing must establish a culture and attitude that is welcoming to, and watchful of, new investment. When someone shows an interest in investing in Lansing, we must aggressively do what we can to make it happen and help it to happen. This must be pervasive throughout government and our partners.
As Michigan’s Capitol City we need to be able to provide plenty of accommodations for visitors to our community. With growing interest in our city as a conference destination and tourist attraction, hotel variety and availability is necessary. The Radisson is a good downtown option, but we also must pursue other hotels now that the non-compete deal has ended. We also must bring more amenities downtown, and to commercial centers and other parts of the city where we want (and expect) people to visit. We should work with the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote these areas as a partner through marketing and other available tools at their disposal. We will also utilize the Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority to market Lansing regionally, statewide, and worldwide, and to provide more options to offer visitors (and residents!) interested in enjoying our city.
We can also utilize Lansing amenities such as the river trail and our transit options to be more accessible and easily connected to the rest of the region. This will encourage visitors to come to Lansing and see what we have to offer. We can also utilize these tools and many others to allow visitors without cars to explore Lansing and all that we have to offer.
Coordination of Commercial Centers and Business Investment Zones
The City of Lansing is home to several notable commercial centers and corridors: Downtown, REO Town, Old Town; the Saginaw -Oakland, Cedar, Pennsylvania, Michigan Ave, and MLK coordinators (just to name a few). These entities should be cooperative with each other instead of competitive, and the City should encourage our commercial centers and corridors to work together. Commercial areas that contribute to the principal shopping district and other tax captures that go to the city should be able to easily recapture dollars for their areas that are generated for their own improvement.
Commercial centers should also have options for their own tools to attract business to our community. One tool available to commercial centers are Business Improvement Zones (BIZ), which allow businesses to petition for and adopt special assessments on themselves then use those dollars for improvements and needs in their area. These BIZs are governed by a locally determined board of directors, although the Mayor can have one member serving on that body. As such, the decisions to use these dollars remain local but still have input and involvement from the City. Businesses in each commercial center should be offered the opportunity to create a BIZ to assist with the needs of that center. This could provide guaranteed dollars for each area that they can utilize in the best way they see fit. While this process was historically cumbersome and expensive, we now have models from other parts of the state they can be used effectively to make these zones effective without needing much up front cost. The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) and Lansing Economic Development staff should help our commercial areas which are interested to utilize this tool.
Although mentioned in others areas in this document, functional infrastructure is a necessity for economic and community development. Good roads are needed by businesses to ensure people want to come to Lansing and spend their hard-earned dollars. Appropriate Infrastructure as part of placemaking is also vital to attracting and retaining talent to our City and fueling economic growth. This includes having an effective public transit system, access to high-speed internet for workers and businesses, and so many other things that an attractive, vibrant city possesses which lures talent to a city and leads to economic and community growth.
Economic Development Tools and Development Subsidies
As more people move to our commercial centers and corridors, we need to have a discussion about the appropriate financial subsidization of private development by the City of Lansing. Our city needs to continue to utilize all tools available to us to ensure we are bringing in business, investments, and jobs. We need to boost our local economy, which will help to sustain services through property taxes, income taxes, and spending when there are more people spending money in Lansing. Lansing should continue to utilize incentives to support projects that would not happen without otherwise. We must weigh the economic impact of foregoing valuable future taxpayer dollars, and know if the project would have happened anyway (without the incentive). We need to evaluate when to provide incentives for building new versus using existing buildings which are vacant or blighted. We should also look at giving advantage to abatements for better-paying jobs. And, we need to ensure proposed development projects are advancing our overall vision for Lansing.
To address these issues, we must know more about the economics of each individual private real estate development deal brought before the City. This requires access to appropriate financial analyses and sound policies to address the various situations that arise. It also includes ensuring we have the proper metrics to evaluate projects and potential success such as jobs, contributions to the economy, increased tax values, and other potential metrics. We should also look at scoring projects to ensure that they comply with our master plan for our city, including use of the building (mixed commercial and residential versus single use), historic preservation, redevelopment or new build, and other factors. Additionally, we can assist developers by providing assessments at the start of the project, so they can know and understand the costs of the project.
We have many economic development tools that we can use and we should ensure each make sense for that project and area, including granting tax abatements (PA 198’s, PA 328’s, Obsolete Property and Rehabilitation Tax Credits, Renaissance Zones, etc.) as well as payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) options.
We also need to focus time and energy on our usage of Community Development Block Grant dollars and they activities they fund. These dollars will become more scarce as the new federal budgets scale back on appropriating these dollars. We need to review the activities funded by CDBG and understand if they are achieving the maximum impact for our community or if should they be re-directed towards areas of greater impact.
We should also look at our resources in regards to façade improvements. Small businesses, non-profits, and other entities could use help with structural and aesthetic improvements to make our commercial areas not only functional but also pleasing to those who would patronize them.
Grocery and Food Access
Lansing has enjoyed a growth of restaurant and retail availability, but we need options for grocery stores and food access. While the Lansing City Market and local farmers’ markets are great options for residents, we still need grocery stores in the corridors of Lansing as well as in commercial centers and areas. These areas need to continue to develop walkability that includes easily accessible grocery options. They also should focus on accessible grocery stores that match up with our public transportation so people can easily get groceries from store to home if they don’t have or don’t want to have a car.
There are many challenges to bringing a grocery store to a downtown area (and helping them succeed), but those obstacles are not insurmountable—plenty of other communities have found creative ways to overcome them. In the Legislature, I am moving legislation that will provide funding for grocery options. If enacted, this law would target millions of dollars towards grocery options each year that Lansing could apply for, helping us to attract grocers to our downtown and to commercial centers that lack them as well as supporting our existing grocery stores.
Lansing also needs to make better use of the Michigan Food Fund, which has millions of dollars that can be used for urban grocery stores. I would like to see the city partner with developers working on new multi-use projects to leverage these dollars and bring urban grocery options into growing mixed use areas.
Lansing needs maximize our riverfront. Destination cities around the state and country develop their riverfronts with restaurants and retail, generating significant foot traffic and revenues for businesses and for the communities themselves. Lansing’s riverfront has overgrown vegetation that blocks one of our greatest assets. We also have property development that doesn’t include mixed use. Development on the river should include restaurants and retail on the ground floor so we can utilize our extensive river trail as part of a development plan that leads to riverfront dining and shopping that can be accessed through roads on the front side and the river trail on the back side. We can also improve bicycle access to the riverfront to enhance those that can take advantage of all the possibilities for recreation, entertainment, and commercial activity. We are seeing residents find new ways to enjoy our riverfront (boat tours, dragon boats, kayaking, etc.), but as a city we need to create intentional riverfront business centers and corridors. We also can utilize non-river areas of our river trail network for additional growth opportunities.
Lansing must regulate marijuana dispensaries. I supported legislation last September to allow for and regulate marijuana dispensaries in our communities. That law created the framework to allow for local ordinances to regulate marijuana dispensaries. We must utilize this new law to regulate dispensaries and provisioning centers.
Unless we want to start becoming known as “High Lansing” like the billboards all over the area are labeling us, we need to take action. If there is no regulation by January 1 of 2018, I will work with City Council to bring together all stakeholders with an interest in this issue (neighborhood associations, cannabis guild members, Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Works! Agency, etc.) and craft a thoughtful, collaborative solution. We need to ensure that people who need marijuana for medical purposes are able to conveniently access it, while at the same time consider the effects on our neighborhoods and business corridors of high numbers of dispensaries within close proximity to each other. We should look at ensuring that we have enough facilities available to serve our residents in need. At the same time, we should look at options that will ensure these dispensaries are spread out enough through the city so they are not clustered together on any major corridor. We can also look at things like appropriate hour regulations and appropriate separation requirements from other dispensaries (similar to liquor store laws). We must also enforce laws that prevent large growth operations—especially in our residential areas which result in strong smells, traffic, crime, etc.—and, at the same time, make sure our small home growers are not creating issues while respecting their right to grow a limited number of plants under current law.
When the City of Lansing grants economic development incentives, we should make sure that those who employ our workers have the opportunity to bid on the work. Foregoing future tax dollars to create economic development is important, but Lansing residents will be paying for the services that are necessary on those jobs and after the jobs are complete (police, fire, water, sewer, etc). Our Lansing qualified skilled workers deserve the opportunity to earn salaries on these jobs. That said, we also don’t want to prevent businesses from coming to Lansing. Additionally, some jobs may require specialized labor which may not be available locally. I am committed to bringing together the business community, labor, and other stakeholders to craft a comprehensive, thoughtful policy on this issue. This could include scoring for projects (as other communities in our region do), providing local bid match for local companies that bid within a certain percentage (as I helped create for Ingham County), or any number of other ideas.
Placemaking and Development
It’s no secret that a growing number of residents want to live in downtown, commercial areas. Many new residents are seeking out urban amenities with greater frequency; they want to live close to work, restaurants, and parks and they want to be able to walk and bike to the amenities around them. This is true for millennials as well as mature professionals and empty nesters alike. These people that don’t want suburban living. They want dense, walkable living. Lansing has a great opportunity to attract all of these people to downtown and to our commercial corridors. If Lansing wants to compete for residents on a larger scale, we’re going to need to continue to focus on how to make our community attractive to a variety of potential residents.
We need to develop a downtown and commercial centers that are able to capitalize on the increasing density of talent—especially tech-savvy talent. To capitalize on this, we need to ensure we have options for homes close to shops, restaurants, and offices, and accessible public transit. In addition to focusing on the development of those amenities, we need to consider the importance of affordable rental housing for young workers, urban grocery stores (or a functional central marketplace), public gathering spaces, and well-maintained green spaces. We also need to place some focus on our neighborhoods and aging housing stock.
There are many ways to accomplish this, and many examples of infrastructure that we have now which can be updated. We have parks which can be more open and better utilized, we could better advertise our burgeoning arts community and resources throughout Lansing, there are many current and future projects that qualify as placemaking that we can advertise as part of the focus of Lansing, we could work with Lansing Community College and their efforts to create gathering spaces and art on campus, and so many other things.
Fostering a Respectful, Welcoming Community
Lansing will continue to stand for equality and against discrimination by continuing our priority to be welcoming to all and treating all the same regardless of race, religion, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other distinguishing difference. We are fortunate have a tremendous amount of diversity in our city and must continue to make clear how much we value what people of all different backgrounds bring to our culture and to our economy. We are also a leader in welcoming immigrants and refugees, and this must not diminish. I am committed to condemning any attacks on, harassment of, or intimidation of individuals or places of worship that are based on race, ethnicity, immigration or refugee status, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, or other social identities.
Supporting Important Local Industries
Lansing has many important industries that the City needs to work with and support. The relationship needs to continue to be strong with the manufacturing base. We must meet regularly and discuss partnership opportunities with General Motors and the many subsidiary businesses that exist because of our GM plants. We also need to continue to work with the insurance industry. Companies like Jackson, Accident Fund, Blue Cross, and Auto Owners not only employ many Lansing residents but also are major influences in our local economy and support many Lansing needs and amenities. Regionalism can be very helpful, and we should work closely with other local governments as well as Michigan State University and all the resources and tools at their disposal. Support for health care and bio-tech, including our two hospital systems (Sparrow and McLaren) are necessary for Lansing and the region. We must also continue to assist our growing IT industry, with over 350 IT companies here in Lansing helping our local economy to grow. All of these can be accomplished by meeting with representatives of these companies, and I will also meet regularly with members and staff of the Greater Lansing Chamber of Commerce to discuss these industries as well as the various small businesses and other commerce in Lansing.
Workforce Development Circle
Attracting jobs back to the City of Lansing is important, but so is ensuring that we have the appropriate workforce to step into those roles. Instead of hoping that we have a trained, well-prepared workforce for the future, Lansing needs to establish a Workforce Development Circle to cultivate a talent pool that will ensure our community’s success for years to come. We have many unique and skilled industries where our workforce could fill needs including insurance, IT, skilled trades, maintaining and rehabbing historic buildings, health care, education, and so many others. The city must partner with the Lansing School District, Lansing Community College, Davenport University, the Capital Area Michigan Works! Agency, and others to ensure we’re able to quickly fulfill our growing workforce needs. Lansing must be actively involved with Teach. Talent. Thrive., or T3. This is a new network of connected assets to support education and talent development in the Capital Area, and is committed to helping the Capital Area become the exemplary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) region in America. Current partners involved include the Capital Area Michigan Works!, Lansing Community College, Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Michigan State University and the Tri County Regional Planning Commission. T3 is a community committed to lifelong learning led by business and community stakeholders to ensure regional prosperity in the ever-changing new economy, and the City of Lansing needs to be part of this effort.
Part of attracting businesses to our community is ensuring we are choosing to partner with good actors. As State Representative, I passed legislation into law ensuring that abatements for bad actors can be revoked. I also passed legislation allowing local governments to go after bad actor mobile home park owners. At the City, we need to ensure that there are consequences if promises are made but purposely not followed-through regarding commitments to the City. Contacts that the City has with business owners or developers which guarantee abatements or tax credits must also provide the ability for consequences when those individuals do not satisfy commitments. Those type of consequences might include revocations of deals, clawbacks, reduction in awarded tax abatements when investment and job benchmarks are not met, etc.
We also need language in contracts with the city to ensure that if taxpayer dollars are abated, businesses will not appeal their property assessments or will agree to the assessment before the abatement is granted. We’ve seen too many cases of abatements being granted, then assessments repealed after the deal is agreed upon. This not only reduces tax capture so that it is tougher to complete the project—it reduces the taxes captured once the full taxation is realized, which ultimately means reduced revenue for the city.
We should do our best to ensure that tax incentives are job positive. We should structure tax abatements agreements to have assurances that there will be net gains in jobs during the period of the tax abatement. While this must be situational and certain exemptions must be made, Lansing generally should not approve abatements that then result in the loss of jobs to the workers whose taxes will pay to make up those abatements.
The City also needs to provide controls regarding those who have not paid taxes owed to the City. We should not be offering incentives to those that are in arrears to the City, and must be sure to check the status of the person asking for that incentive before any approvals. We must also ensure that city income taxes are being collected by those who work on development and all other jobs in the City, especially if the workers owe the non-resident .05% Lansing income tax. We also need to minimize landlords who collect rent from tenants from being delinquent on property taxes, and can assist in this process by offering tools such as automatic payment systems.
The City of Lansing has the potential to be a leading community in Michigan and even a world-class city, but you don’t always know that walking around here. Unchecked litter and trash is widespread and affecting our image — I clean up at least one piece of trash on the ground every day. As part of this effort, we must ensure that we have enough garbage cans in our commercial areas – and that they are emptied in a timely manner - so that people have a place to put their trash. We also must clean up and keep clean any vacant lots where we have open space that seems to collect trash. And, as part of making our city attractive, we need to address blighted buildings and remove those that are a nuisance and eyesore. It’s time for us to clean up our city, impressing upon our workers, visitors, and residents the important role they must play in keeping our community pristine.
We must also ensure we are doing what we can to increase recycling. We need to work on recycling options in housing for those that may not have access to on-site recycling, such as those in apartments and lofts. We also should ensure that we have recycling options in commercial areas and on commercial corridors for pedestrian use.
Governments throughout the state and nation have fewer resources to provide services to residents, workers, and visitors. Lansing is no different. If we want to fund the roads and public safety, we can utilize outside resources to help where tax dollars are not available. We can work with those revitalizing our city to also include things like parkland, greenspace, art, recreation or other amenities as a part of the development. Combining necessary amenities with development and revitalization can benefit the patrons of businesses, new residents, and those that have called Lansing their home for many years.
Economic and Community Development Vision Advisory Committee:
- Brian McGrain
- Scott Ellis
- Matt Solak
- Jennifer Grau
- Cara Nader
- Jamie Schriner
- Lynne Martinez
- Nancy Finegood
- Julie Powers
This Advisory Committee includes individuals involved in economic and community development in and around Lansing. It also includes business owners and advocates. Many others not listed also provided feedback and input. This vision will continue to evolve throughout the campaign.