The City of Albion, MI was selected to participate in Michigan’s statewide initiative, Project Rising Tide (PRT) during 2018-2019.
PRT is an economic development process that has connected 21 communities across Michigan’s ten prosperity regions to the tools and talent needed to sustain a sound economic framework.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Michigan State Housing Development Authority–collectively, the State of Michigan Labor and Economic Opportunity Department (LEO) team, committed their assets to engaging specific communities across the state in order to empower them to shape their future and maximize economic potential. For each of the two rounds of the program implemented between 2016-2019, one community was selected in each of the ten Michigan Prosperity Regions using the following data, cross-matched by population: poverty, unemployment, labor participation, renter occupancy, vacancy, households receiving assistance.
The City of Albion started participating in 2018 as part of round two of the PRT program. For the second round, each community was designated a Community Development Fellow (CDF) beginning in December of 2018. The fellowship was implemented through the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM) to coordinate the Project Rising Tide initiatives in participating communities. The initiative was designed to allow the CDF to assist the city manager and a local steering committee to implement action strategies. With the help of third-party consultants, additional technical assistance deliverables were also coordinated through the fellowship.
Directly coinciding the city’s PRT selection, Albion experienced a series of transitions within leadership at city hall. While the PRT initiative is intended to fit the unique needs of a city and therefore looks different in each community, Albion’s PRT fellowship was markedly more behind-the-scenes due to interim city management and many competing priorities.
In 2018, Albion’s PRT leadership decided to focus on the following arenas for PRT assistance: health/wellness, housing, public-infrastructure, post-industrial sites and workforce development. Through Albion’s involvement in MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) process beginning in late 2015, the city’s leadership was aware of many City-based and community-based needs prior to the PRT Action Strategies planning process in 2018. Those needs and other issues were consolidated under the five major arenas listed above. Even though major shifts have posed unique challenges throughout the RRC and PRT planning and implementation processes, the City and its various stakeholders have generated a compelling vision to moving forward in the face of growing pains.
Community Development Fellowship:
The primary goal of community development is to improve the quality of life for all residents within an area, which also creates a more enjoyable destination for visitors and therefore strengthens a city’s economic framework. The City of Albion recently experienced the tremendous loss of the Albion Public Schools District, which has brought many residents to see the community’s quality of life as diminished in an irreparable way. Reaching people in a meaningful way can often be challenging, and at time of pain, it is even more difficult to reconnect in order to rebuild collectively.
Yet Albion’s connections with other local education institutions, namely Albion College and Marshall Public Schools District, have brought a new wave of support and momentum into the city. In order to complement many stakeholders’ hard work that was underway at the end of 2018, the PRT CDF conducted intentional, ongoing discussions to execute the city’s strategic actions. People who represent diverse sectors including faith-based, grassroots and nonprofit organizations, businesses, educational and economic development institutions, all contributed their expertise and insight to reach conclusions and take initiative under PRT.
Throughout the entire year, the CDF worked alongside over 50 key stakeholders to ensure Albion’s PRT outcomes were beneficial to the community at-large.
In addition, the following engagement methods were implemented:
- Over 250 people engaged in dialogue through focus groups, public meetings, community events, 1:1 meetings, and interviews
- 300+ people engaged in paper and online surveys
- Volunteer services were provided by over 160 people, including focus group facilitation, community outreach and engagement, promotional efforts, logistics and coordination of strategic actions for health/wellness, housing, public-infrastructure, post-industrial sites and workforce development
- 8,778 people “reached organically” through the Rising Tide Albion Facebook page
Albion Wins Between 2018-2019 for the Community At-Large:
- 2-1-1 Service Line Updated: Thanks to the Build Albion AmeriCorps VISTA Initiative, Albion’s nonprofits and other service providers were contacted to ensure the area’s 2-1-1 resource telephone line has the most current information.
- Blighted Structures to be Demolished:Perhaps the most impactful win of the year – the last remaining post-industrial structure, Union Steel #1, is scheduled to be demolished in 2020 thanks to partnerships with the Calhoun County Land Bank Authority, City of Albion, and Albion Economic Development Corporation. The property has become a safety hazard that negatively impacts the health of surrounding residents and property values of the adjacent structures. Its removal will mark the end of an era and demonstrate the city’s commitment to safe, healthy neighborhoods.
- Business Expansion and Openings: At least four new businesses opened in Albion during 2019 and six other companies expanded their facilities. In 2018, at least two other businesses opened, while four apartments were renovated, all of which are now occupied by new residents of Albion. Throughout the last five years, at least five other business have opened in Albion and remain open today. These new businesses and expansions are both symbolic and definitive in their economic contributions, as the city begins to stabilize its revenue and rebuild its services.
- Complete Zoning Ordinance Rewrite: This achievement was 20+ years in the making and will improve the outcome of work within all five arenas identified as priorities under PRT. All renovation and development of property will be a much more simple process, which ultimately allows the city to generate the revenue it needs to support its residents.
- Health Resources Growing: The city’s organizational assets are being leveraged to increase access to health resources with a new express care clinic that opened in partnership with Albion College and Oaklawn Medical Group – Albion. Additionally, the Calhoun County Health Department has expanded its new family planning services through the county’s satellite health department office in Albion.
- Balancing Economic Investment and Social Equity: From an economic standpoint, the city has received an influx of investment, including a Courtyard Marriott opening downtown across from the city’s recently renovated Historic Bohm Theatre. These and other investments have made 2018 and 2019 the first two years in the last decade where the City’s finances turned the corner and took a significant step toward stabilization. Although strengthening the city’s financial foundation is still a great need, critical feedback has grown with these noticeable changes in the city’s landscape. Citizens are concerned regarding about how funds are being directed toward people with a higher income level. This is happening in juxtaposition to a majority of current residents being unable to meet basic needs according to the United Way’s data on households that are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE). The new city administration has set goals and priorities that highlight the need to ensure the public’s participation so that the city’s ongoing development process is done with sensitivity to the needs of its current residents. The city manager’s goals and priorities were approved by Albion’s city council on Monday, December 2, 2019; council meeting minutes are available here.
- Leveraging Albion’s Multitude of Assets: Far and away, the people of Albion are what make it one-of-a-kind. Diverse by age, education, income, ethnic background, faith, sexuality, and worldviews, Albion’s residents have dialectical relationships that create a dynamic place. To build on resident’s passion for the visual and performing arts, creative partnerships are emerging to utilize the city’s historical venues in new ways. The hub of three major non-motorized trails, Albion is also a well-defined destination for outdoor recreation, which is a driving force of Michigan’s economy.
Local, Regional, and Statewide Partnerships:
While the official Project Rising Tide initiative and fellowship has ended, the city’s needs are continuing to be addressed through innovative partnerships. 2018-2019 brought many changes and growth for the operations within and overall identity of the Albion community.
The importance of ongoing support from numerous stakeholders who have maintained continuity amidst drastic changes cannot be overstated. The following partners within local, regional, and state contexts have been instrumental in reaching the goals established within Albion’s PRT program.
Albion’s statewide partners include Beckett and Raeder Inc., Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan State University – Extension, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Michigan Works!, Small Business Development Center, and State of Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
The following regional agencies have also provided critical assistance to the city: Calhoun County Land Bank Authority, Calhoun County Visitors Bureau, and Calhoun County government officials with the departments of Senior Services and Public Health.
Additionally, the following local organizations have played a vital role in moving projects forward:
- Albion City Council
- Albion College
- Albion Community Foundation
- Albion Design & Marketing
- Albion District Library
- Albion Economic Development Corporation
- Albion Health Care Alliance
- Albion Housing Commission
- Albion Interfaith Ministries
- Albion Ministerial Alliance
- Other faith-based leaders
- Albion Reinvestment Corporation
- The Recorder newspaper
- Build Albion AmeriCorps VISTA Initiative
- Brick Street Marketing
- City of Albion Staff
- Albion Downtown Development Authority Board Members
- Greater Albion Chamber of Commerce
- Marshall Public Schools
- Oaklawn Hospital
- Substance Abuse Prevention Services
Last but not least, sincere gratitude goes to the residents of Albion for your continued willingness to engage.
Albion’s residents and stakeholders far and wide embody a spirit of fortitude and passion, which is often proclaimed as the most inspiring aspect of the community.
This report was created by Albion’s PRT Community Development Fellow, Linda LaNoue.
LaNoue is a resident of Albion and a graduate student at the University of Detroit Mercy’s Master of Community Development Program.