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January 10th was the first Consultative Panel meeting of 2024! As experts, Consultative Panelists advise REI in the development and selection of Co-Learning Plans. We are excited about the many competitive applications received and have already announced awards for the 2024 projects! As we begin the new year, REI would like to introduce you to, and welcome our New Consultative Panelists:



Bill Ernat, Program Manager for Economic & Community Development with the East Michigan Council of Governments (EMCOG):

Bill is the Program Manager for Economic & Community Development with the East Michigan Council of Governments and has served in that capacity since 2016. He has been with EMCOG since 2014 and has worked with a number of federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on a variety of projects and programs. He has also worked with a number of state agencies such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), and the Michigan State Police Department (MSP). Bill is currently working with the EDA on the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), MSHDA on the Regional Housing Partnership Plan, and with FEMA/MSP on several Hazard Mitigation Plans. Bill has over 40 years’ experience in the planning/community development field in local government in Illinois and Michigan. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geography and a master's degree in public administration, both from Northern Illinois University. He is currently a member of the Michigan Association of Planning.



Mitchell Nelson, Mid-Michigan Regional Director in the Office of U.S. Senator Gary Peters

Mitchell Nelson has been serving as Mid-Michigan Regional Director in the Office of U.S. Senator Gary Peters since August 2023. As the Senator’s principal point of contact in the Lansing region, Mitchell’s primary responsibilities include serving as the Senator’s key liaison to government officials, non-profits, and community leaders, as well as developing and executing a strategic outreach plan covering a broad range of constituencies and stakeholders in order to ensure federal government accessibility for constituents. Mitchell also monitors and reports to the Senator developing issues, opinions, and concerns in the region and works with state and DC-based colleagues on recommending solutions to regional problems with a federal connection. Prior to his tenure with Senator Peters, Mitchell worked in the Michigan House of Representatives, the Michigan Senate, and as a public defender. He serves on the Boards of Directors for the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness as well as Citizens for Prison Reform. Mitchell holds a BA in Literature: Creative Writing from University of California Santa Cruz and a JD from Southwestern Law School.



Emma Gilbert, Economic Development Planner, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission

Emma Gilbert began at the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission in 2023. As the Economic Development Planner, she supports the development, maintenance, and implementation of the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) and helps identify priority economic development programming and planning initiatives. Other responsibilities include assisting local communities and organizations in navigating federal grant opportunities, cultivating cross-sector regional partnerships, and providing various technical and administrative support for the agency’s community development program. Recently, she has been assisting with the coordination of the South-Central Regional Housing Partnership, serving Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham counties, an initiative supported by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Relations & Policy, a Bachelor of Science in Urban & Regional Planning, and a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning from Michigan State University.



Tony Willis, Chief Equity Development Officer at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP)

As the Chief Equity Development Officer for LEAP, Tony leads the organization in establishing and extending programs to support equitable economic development throughout the Lansing region. With the goal of creating a stronger, more competitive economy that works for all; Tony works to dismantle barriers and expand opportunities for low-income people, communities of color, and other underrepresented groups. Tony has worked in multiple capacities at LEAP starting as Business Acceleration Manager and VP of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, before being promoted to Chief Equity Development Officer. During his time at LEAP, Tony has created, developed, and implemented several programs including: PROTO Accelerator: the region’s first corporate innovation platform and the only accelerator in the state of Michigan with a program focused on InsurTech; One and All: an IEDC Gold Award winning entrepreneurial program focused on supporting entrepreneurs within the ALICE threshold with mentorship, educational curriculum, and seed funding; as well as Elevate: the region’s first small business accelerator focused on Black entrepreneurs and enterprises, with the goal of enhancing revenue, profitability, and prominence. Tony is a proud Spartan, having earned a BA in Communications with specialization in PR from Michigan State University. Tony also attended Lansing Community College prior to transferring to Michigan State University. When not working, Tony is an active community member where he serves on several boards and advisory groups for organizations (All of the Above, JUSTICE League of Greater Lansing). 



David Struck, Lead Economic Development Planner, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG):

David Struck, AICP, manages the region’s newly designated Economic Development District and the development and implementation of SEMCOG’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). He also focuses on placemaking initiatives and assisting local governments throughout the seven-county Southeast Michigan region. David has been a professional urban planner since 2004 and previously served as the planning director for St. Clair County for twelve years, as well as deputy county administrator for three years. His work in county planning included writing community master plans, zoning ordinances, and parks and recreation plans for local units of government, assisting county departments with strategic and long-range planning, and working with partners on community and economic development initiatives. David holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration from Grand Valley State University and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Michigan State University. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the American Planning Association, and the Michigan Association of Planning.

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