Strategic connections take time: Reflections from D10

Andy Northrop, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension educator, works with communities statewide to create and maintain sustainable communities using tourism and economic development. He is the chair of the tourism team for our Greening Michigan Institute (GMI), and he is also on the government and public policy work team. Andy has built connections over the past two years by consistent networking and needs assessment in the communities where he serves.

“I have a personal passion for social change and sustainability,” Andy said. He also gives credit to his GMI colleagues and their programming for building trust in communities around the state through their track record of facilitating the rebirth of rural communities. “I have learned that strategic connections and anticipated outcomes take significant time,” he reflected. “Although we want to see change today, being patient and confident success will come is all part of the process.”

In St. Clair County, in MSU Extension District 10, Andy built a relationship with the St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) and The Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce. The EDA and the Chamber of Commerce became partners in hosting the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference in 2016. Their collaboration on the conference brought together planning agencies, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, private investors, nonprofits, educational professionals, and a number of partners and interested citizens in seeing Port Huron’s rebirth and vision for fostering a culture to support entrepreneurs. The conference drew 138 people, who traveled from two countries, five states, 27 counties and 58 communities.

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Andy, like many of you, works to create connections across the state as well. He has developed key partnerships with Region 6 of Gov. Snyder’s Prosperity Initiative (RPI 6), which comprises seven counties across MSU Extension Districts 9 and 10. One key partner in RPI 6 is Genesee County Planning, which has been instrumental in strengthening our relationship by employing GMI’s tourism team to deliver four First Impressions: Assessing Your Community for Tourism (FIT) programs during 2017.

FIT, officially offered in 2017 for the first time, assesses communities through the eyes of first-time visitors. Four teams of four educators from GMI will conduct unannounced assessments as tourists to four communities across RPI 6 during the spring and summer of 2017 and work directly with their community leadership teams to strengthen their rural tourism industry potential.

This program was adapted to Michigan by modeling from program partnerships with five Northeast Central for Rural Development land-grant universities. It will be the first of its kind to be offered under Extension in partnership with a prosperity initiative.

The four successful communities will also receive state funding from RPI 6 to implement the suggested results from assessments. In 2017, the program is already serving as a cross-workgroup program within GMI. The tourism team envisions this being a cross-institute/Extension-wide program where experts across all four institutes can be tapped to move rural community tourism development forward.

“Overall, these partnerships have positioned GMI and other institutes as reputable partners in areas related to business and economic development, sustainable tourism and placemaking,” Andy said.

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