GVMC planning standards one step toward economic sanity

August 24, 2009
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Regional planning and identification has long been advocated by Grand Rapids Business Journal, and we would not let pass another opportunity to encourage such efforts. The Grand Valley Metropolitan Council is gathering planners from its 35 member governments to begin the process of using and developing planning standards to cover the entire region.

It is no doubt a daunting task — until the first step is taken, and that first step is the agreement to do so. Economic development agencies within the region have long advocated such work. The Right Place Inc. President and CEO Birgit Klohs is likely weary of saying, “The companies who call from Germany or Japan or Indiana do not care where the individual governmental boundary line is.” The Metro Council will include the economic development agencies from throughout the region in its process for planning.

The state debacle of running out of Michigan Economic Growth Authority funds (or more specifically: legislative hold-ups to refund) for tax credits to compete for businesses moving to or expanding in Michigan is just plain dim-witted in this devastated economy. The Business Journal has previously commented on the dangers of the ploy by drama kings and queens in legislature, but the Metro Council action is all the more important for such lapses in intelligence and state political game playing.

Successful regional planning provides a solid base for new businesses as well as those existing. And it may be the only place in the world where such a guarantee can be made, proffering a model for others.

Metro Council has worked for more than a decade on such issues. One of its stated overarching issues within Michigan has been to remove or amend the statutory obstacles that prevent counties and local units of government from sharing the cost of providing local services. Two of the three statutes still standing as obstacles were written in 1967. In a policy statement to the state legislature, the Metro Council member governments unanimously wrote that “a convergence of forces has brought about the most serious financial crisis in many years for Michigan’s state and local governments. This is a structural challenge, not solely the result of an economic downturn. We cannot solely cut or tax our way out of it. Michigan must fundamentally reform its spending and taxing polices and reinvent the way state and local governments deliver services to be more efficient and productive.”

That was in 2007 — two years ago, and ahead of the enormous downward spiral the legislature now finds itself experiencing.

While legislators attempt to defend what little change they’ve made on the eve of yet another budget crisis as the fiscal year ends, they would do well to draw from the lifelines offered by GVMC.

GVMC Planning Director Andy Bowman lamented that while the 35 governments represented indicated in a survey the need for multi-jurisdictional meetings, there is not a forum for all planning commissions to gather. Executive Director Don Stypula noted that to do so, GVMC would need a meeting room the size of DeVos Place convention center.

Grand Rapids Business Journal would like to see that, and the community foundations’ assistance to make it happen.

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