Economic growth and how to achieve it are at the top of the platform for most candidates for government office—whether it be for local, state, or national seats of representation. Regional economic catalyst, Southwest Michigan First, reached out to 2019 candidates for office in the city of Kalamazoo to get their take on growing the economy. Over the coming days, we’ll share the answers of those who responded to our questions. Let’s meet the candidates!
2019 Candidate for Mayor of Kalamazoo
- B.S. Accountancy, Western Michigan University
- Kalamazoo City Commissioner – 12 years; Vice Mayor – 2 years
- Director of Housing and Facilities for Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services – 27 years
- Licensed Michigan Residential Builder – 35 years
2019 Candidate for Kalamazoo City Commission
- S. Exercise Science, University of Michigan
- A. Exercise Science/Holistic Health, Western Michigan University
- Retired Professor of Physical Education, Volleyball Coach at Kalamazoo College (35 years)
- Author of “Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games” and “MaxAbility: Who Are You, and What Are You Here For?”
- Community Volunteer at United Way, St. Thomas More, Habitat for Humanity, Communities in Schools
2019 Candidate for Kalamazoo City Commission
- A. Hospitality Business, Michigan State University
- B.A, Marketing, Western Michigan University
- Managed nine high volume restaurants for two corporations.
- Worked for two independent restaurant companies for the purpose of overseeing all aspects (final interior design, securing suppliers, hiring, training management and staff, marketing) of opening their restaurants.
- Developed, implemented, and managed the marketing and/or business plans for high-volume restaurants.
- Was the business development and marketing executive for an internet startup company that focused on providing online, on-site support for the HVAC/R industry.
- Founded and operated all phases of a successful local delivery service.
- Currently, self-employed as a consultant who works with small businesses on their marketing and business strategy needs.
2019 Candidate for Kalamazoo City Commission
- B.A., Western Michigan University, 2008; M.A., Teaching, Dominican University, 2010
- Director of Events, Western Michigan University
- Manager of Marketing & Communications, Envirologic Technologies
- Director of Communications, Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce
- National Service, Americorp, Teach for America (LA, South Chicago)
- Student Body President, Western Michigan University (2007-2008)
- Co-Founder, Student Association of Michigan (2007-2008)
- Former Board President, Kalamazoo Literacy Council
- Former Campaign Cabinet Chair, Kalamazoo Literacy Council
- Board member, Kalamazoo Literacy Council (2011-present)
- Mentored two youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters (2007-2016)
- Appointee, City of Kalamazoo, Blue Ribbon Panel on Revenue (2015)
- Fund Development Chair, Kalamazoo Promise 10th Anniversary (2015-16)
- Secretary, Kalamazoo Abraham Lincoln Project (2014-present)
QUESTION 1: At Southwest Michigan First, we believe “the greatest force for a change is a well-paying job.” If elected, what steps do you plan to take to increase job growth and workforce development?
The basis for attracting and retaining jobs is high quality infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, parks, water/waste water, and responsive and effective public services and public safety. In the last three years, the city has increased investments in Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) from $3 million annually to $30 million annually, a tenfold increase. The proposed 2020 budget will include $50 million in the CIP budget.
We are supporting local residents with contractor licensing training, small business loans, and the proposed business incubation center. Additionally, the city has robust brownfield and development programs and incentives. I will continue to support and expand these efforts.
I would support the work being done by entities such as Southwest Michigan First, Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, all social service agencies, nonprofits, foundations, and all educational institutions seeking to help people move into the workforce. Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo and IK 2025 have created a roadmap for our path forward. I am a creative and collaborative thinker, and I believe that we have the resources in this community to solve all issues we face today.
City government must:
- Use the tools at its disposal (tax credits, updating zoning to allow for new, different, appropriate development in underutilized areas, etc.) to foster a positive climate of economic development and quality of life.
- Develop new tools to support and expand upon current ones. Initiatives include:
o Streamline the permitting process.
o Reduce or waive permitting fees for small businesses.
o Offer low interest/interest-free loans.
o Develop programs (or coordinate with NGOs) that educate entrepreneurs on how to start, finance, operate, and grow their businesses.
o Support the “ban the box” initiative the workforce.
- Work with KPS to continue a high-quality K-12 educational program.
- Work with KVCC to support and expand vocational technology education.
- Continue to implement the city’s Master Plan to build a vibrant and healthy quality of life in the Kalamazoo area.
- Small Business Incubation and Entrepreneurship: Leverage gap funding and resources to invest in first-time and growing small businesses. The Foundation for Excellence (FFE) recently announced its first gap funding loan to a small business this week.
- Retaining Talent: As a thriving college town, I think there is much more to be done between our higher education institutions and our local business community through internships, apprenticeships, and special training. These “beyond-the-classroom” experiences are what will retain and attract our most talented graduates.
- Youth Employment and Training: Another one of my campaign planks focuses on youth employment and training. Thanks to FFE dollars, significant increases in funding will be devoted to the MyCITY employment program. I would like to see this commitment to youth employment maintained and even more dollars devoted to year-round jobs and experiences, so opportunities exist beyond the summer months.
QUESTION 2: If elected, what is your vision for growing the city’s economy?
My vision for growing the city’s economy operates on multiple fronts, including; investing in infrastructure and services, growing and supporting local entrepreneurs, training and assisting individuals returning from incarceration to become employed, engaging with local business and assisting them with growth plans, and actively promoting placemaking activities that create community and support the fact that the city of Kalamazoo is a great place to live, work, and raise a family.
My vision is to follow the strategic plan, and to hold the city accountable for reaching goals for Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo. We must continue to see what is right about our city/county/region and build upon those, while always taking steps to greater prosperity with the disenfranchised in our plan. The city does need strategic partnerships, a positive business climate and a vibrant city center, and the retention of alumni of our higher education institutions. I would propose that we create a kind of “promise” for WMU/K/KVCC graduates that would help address their student debt should they choose to stay in Kalamazoo.
Kalamazoo starts at a unique tax disadvantage, with over half of its land rendered non-taxable due to our many nonprofit entities that own vast amounts of land. Although they bring jobs and economic vitality to our area, that fact demands a unique approach to make up for the taxable deficit:
- Rezoning that supports more dense, vertical, and mixed-use development.
- Support existing businesses by improving our infrastructure, supporting mass transit and Complete Streets policies to increase viable ways for employees and customers to reach their businesses.
- Partner with outlying governments, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and businesses to attract new businesses to the core and outlying areas. Kalamazoo is the regional hub of this area’s economy, and a strong hub is necessary to support the surrounding area, and vice versa.
- Promote entrepreneurship; small businesses build our neighborhoods, local economy, and create jobs that are much less likely to relocate.
We need to get serious about attracting and retaining young people and families. These individuals are the future lifeblood of our economy and will stabilize and strengthen our property tax base. We need to continuously examine and remain deliberate about the quality of life elements that these segments find particularly attractive when selecting a community to make a forever home or raise a family. Many of these steady improvements are found in the goals outlined in the Image Kalamazoo 2025 Plan.
Small business ownership is a generational game-changer. Small businesses will serve to diversify our local economy to better withstand industry-centric downturns, give our neighborhoods unique character, create jobs in the neighborhoods where the local businesses exist, instill the entrepreneurial spirit in the next generation, and serve to reduce wealth gaps. Not every business will become the next Amazon. However, even if a fraction of our small businesses become a mid-to-large-size company within a generation, we can really move the economic needle. What if our community is able to generate a dozen more companies the size of Fabri-Kal or Schupan & Sons within the next generation?
To ensure that the city of Kalamazoo has a firm financial footing now and, in the future, we must approve thoughtful, balanced budgets, maintain a healthy reserve, adequately fund our long-term liabilities, make wise investments, grow our tax base, improve our neighborhoods, support our local business community, and continue to build a quality community that leaves no one behind.
Kalamazoo has done good work thus far in planning its future course. Again, I would hold the city accountable for enacting the plans. The Foundation for Excellence has been a gift to help Kalamazoo move forward, and I would advocate fundraising for its endowment, much as a college’s endowment enhances the creative work of the institution. Future generations mean advocating for positive public education, and making sure that we address the barriers to education and to the Promise of Kalamazoo.
First and foremost, economic vitality and growth is what will allow the Kalamazoo area to thrive, as well as support the ever-increasing services our residents are calling for.
- Increase our tax base—update zoning to allow more dense, vertical, and mixed-use development.
- Utilize FFE (Fund for Excellence) funds towards investment and training projects that will stimulate development and job creation.
- City government has an opportunity to become a more active facilitator to connect our area’s many NGOs to those that they can serve:
- City government can be the catalyst to more efficiently and effectively direct entrepreneurs, businesses, employees, and job seekers to the services they need that our NGOs already provide.
- Identify gaps and overlaps in the services NGOs already provide to help facilitate a more productive system.
First and foremost, we need to make certain that the Foundation for Excellence (FFE) succeeds and becomes fully endowed.
The aspirational funding portion should be directed at proactive projects to prevent unbudgeted and reactionary knee-jerk expenditures in the future. We should closely examine where the greatest financial risks exist and aim to steadily mitigate the issues using these funds before they become unavoidable. The funds should be directed towards quality of life and placemaking projects that make our city more attractive to young people and families who will decide whether to remain or move here. Lastly, the funds should be directed towards projects that proactively invest in a positive future for young people rather than negative outcomes through public safety or incarceration.
In order to increase the property tax base, we need to continue to invest in a wide range of housing options in our urban core and throughout the city in each of our 22 neighborhoods. We need to invest in small businesses in our neighborhoods who likewise strengthen our tax base.