MEDC plans to place staff around state: Goals: Efficiency, coordination

Posted on February 1, 2011

Newly named Michigan Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Michael Finney said the state’s revamped strategy for economic development includes placing MEDC staff in offices spread around the state.

In a Friday interview after Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State speech on Wednesday, Finney said he hopes to have eight to 10 such locations by year’s end as part of the MEDC’s improvement plans. The staff would be housed in offices of local or regional groups that promote economic development.

Other priorities include improving business retention efforts, serving as an information best-practices clearinghouse, supporting entrepreneurs and broadening the state’s 21st Century Jobs Fund.

Finney, also group executive for economic growth, said embedding MEDC staff to work full time in locations around the state will enable the agency to work more efficiently and effectively with local organizations, share information and eliminate duplication of efforts.

“We intend to work very closely with key local partners around the state,” he said.

Finney, who was president and CEO of Ann Arbor Spark before Snyder picked him to run the MEDC, said the agency is determining where the non-Lansing staff will work. He said the move would aid the MEDC in its emphasis on helping and building businesses that are already in Michigan.

Another move, also highlighted by Snyder last week, is to have the MEDC serve as a clearinghouse for best practices that can be emulated in regions throughout the state.

For example, international trade programs developed by Southeast Michigan’s Automation Alley might be used or duplicated in other parts of the state. Finney said that as an incentive the MEDC will offer financial assistance for entities to work together.

The concept is “to take our best ideas that we have, things that are working in communities throughout our state and, where appropriate, extend that to other communities that are interested,” he said.

In another statewide outreach, the MEDC is looking to connect entrepreneurs, management talent and job seekers with established employers — including offering statewide job posting services to companies that expand, locate or start a business in Michigan.

For example, there will be online public access to information when companies, such as those receiving assistance through the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, announce projects and jobs.

While the state is bolstering its efforts geographically, it is also looking to broaden the types of companies it assists.

New appointments and promotions announced on Friday are part of that plan. Oakland County Deputy Executive Doug Smith will leave the county for a senior vice president post at the MEDC next month. He will head up economic attraction programs and coordination with agencies such as the Detroit Regional Chamberand its Detroit Economic Partnership, Automation Alley, The Right Place in Grand Rapids, the West Michigan Alliance and others.

Joining the MEDC will be Amy Cell, vice president of talent enhancement and entrepreneurial education for Ann Arbor Spark, who starts Jan. 31 as senior vice president of talent enhancement. Martin Dober, vice president of new markets at MEDC, has been promoted to senior vice president of the entrepreneurship and innovation team.

Dober’s team will focus on programs that encourage entrepreneurship and innovation; Cell is charged with directing MEDC talent programs to support entrepreneurship, attraction and retention, as well as “economic gardening” — helping existing companies grow.

Snyder last week called on lawmakers to revamp the scope of the state’s 21st Century Jobs Fund and remove restrictions on what industries can receive its support.

The idea is to cast a wide net for companies that have significant potential for growth, including in such areas as software and agriculture.

“The role of government is to support success, not pick winners and losers,” Snyder said.

The effort to work more closely with regional groups is something that the Michigan Economic Developers Association sees as a good move, while awaiting more details.

“I think from the standpoint of getting closer to the communities, it is a real positive step,” said John Avery, executive director of the association.

The group, in a report last year that laid out a blueprint to remake state economic development strategy, among other things cited the need to revamp responsibility for business retention calls.

The association said in its report that lack of coordination and communication on retention calls led to “duplications at best and missed opportunities at the worst.”