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Creating Jobs and Wealth in Distressed Michigan Communities

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As part of MSU’s EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation 2022 cohort, Co-Learning Plan author, Sean Kammer, has a strong history of Michigan-based community and economic development working from Flint and Royal Oak to Pontiac and Birmingham. His paper explores a demand-side approach to downtown development that looks at engaging the existing local community, residing in the City of Pontiac’s immediate and adjacent neighborhoods. Kammer's paper proposes the creation of Community Revitalization Zones to revitalize downtowns in post-industrial urban communities. The hypothesis was that engaging with local neighborhoods, however essential, is insufficient to catalyze downtown revitalization because of a severe lack of effective demand stemming from a shortage of disposable income. To resolve this, Kammer proposes that economic development professionals consider the development of Community Revitalization Zones that would possess broad powers to intervene in the downward cycles of poverty and disinvestment. Additional powers would include utilizing statutory revenue sharing to fund social infrastructure and other services. This hypothetical zone could be empowered to oversee economic development catalyst projects that contribute to the emergence of an economic steady state, or commonly referred to as a functioning market.

Potentially, boosting effective demand could send positive market signals which could help attract more firms to open in downtown. Additionally, the effects of this serve to encourage local business ownership, thereby building wealth within the community and contributing to the development of social capital. The outcome of this co-learning plan includes developing ways to resolve issues with which cities like Pontiac have long struggled. It also seeks to engage the existing population in the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown to participate in the economy, guarding against what is pejoratively referred to as gentrification. It is hoped that the outcomes will set the stage for more locally owned enterprises to emerge.

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