Discovering and applying new and innovative economic development tools, models, policies, and programs
Creating Jobs and Wealth in Distressed Michigan Communities

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Current Projects

Innovation Fellows
(Co-Implementation Plans)

  • 2024: The Align Center for Workforce Development

    Randy A. Yagiela

    The Align Center aims to offer financial empowerment and training programs in a shared space for various organizations, but also fosters a collaborative culture focused on unified client pathways and employer-centric workforce certification. The project's goals are to create a unified resource center that addresses the gap in workforce training and local career development, especially for nontraditional clients overlooked by existing resources like MI Works. The leadership team, with a deep understanding of the intertwining of housing, transportation, and community needs, brings a holistic approach to workforce development. The project's economic impact is expected to be significant, with plans for a specialized campus catering to employer-specific skill needs, thereby generating living-wage jobs and attracting public/private investments. In summary, the Align Center project represents a comprehensive effort to revitalize a struggling community by integrating education, training, and economic development, with a focus on creating sustainable and equitable opportunities for the residents of Adrian and Lenawee County. 

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Co-Learning Plans

  • 2024: International Center of Greater Flint and the Global Flint Initiative

    Adil Mohammed and Phyllis Sykes

    The International Center of Greater Flint (ICGF) CLP proposes to develop a community grassroots outreach process to create a strategic vision and implementation plan for a Global Flint Initiative (GFI). GFI is an economic and community revitalization strategy that focuses on attracting and retaining international talent by becoming a Welcoming Community. The proposed needs assessment will involve an extensive immigrant groups outreach to conduct focus groups, interviews and surveys throughout the region over several months. The goal is to collect data to document the true assessment of this population. In addition to reaching out to the immigrant population, the same method will be implemented with Flint’s native population. This initiative plans to foster a welcoming environment for international talent in Flint, engaging immigrant groups and native residents to build a cohesive and economically resilient community.


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  • 2024: A Regional Model for Small Business Prosperity

    Robert Carson, AICP and Zachary Vega

    This is a case study of four Michigan Works! program services in Northwest Lower Michigan. This study will provide a comprehensive review of the program’s small business development services and their impact in statistically underserved communities through descriptive statistical analyses and stakeholder interviews. The researchers will identify the regional referral methods that client small businesses have found most effective in their development, develop a survey instrument that identifies program strengths, areas for improvement, and financial impact, and how these methods could be replicated throughout Michigan. While Michigan Works! has been around since 1996, there are very few analyses of its overall effect on small business referrals from a regional perspective. Research into the programs would help to identify strengths and weaknesses and could help other regional entities such as chambers of commerce, county governments, and industry leaders to potentially replicate the programs’ referral methods. These best practices would be influential in helping distressed local communities build their economic bases.

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  • 2024: Analysis & Mapping of Michigan Licensed Appraisers 1980-2022

    David Palmer

    Even though state licensed appraisers play a critical role in Michigan’s residential real estate market, there appears to be very little known about those individuals who are licensed. National fair housing organizations paint the occupation with a broad brush stating over 95% are older white males and there appears to be no initiative to recruit and develop diverse talent into the occupation. The State of Michigan has little to say about this observation. Acknowledging decades of consistent appraisal valuation challenges in the City of Detroit for residential homes, and a long history of racial discrimination in housing, this paper will use public data to detail what is publicly known about licensed appraisers in Michigan in the period from 1980 to 2022. With information available and in the open, this important regulated occupation can be better studied and analyzed to determine if appraisers reflect the communities served or determine if what national fair housing organizations claim is true for the US is also true, specifically in Michigan. 

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Student-Led, Faculty-Guided Technical Assistance

  • 2024: MSU Urban and Regional Planning Practicum Course

    Dr. Kotval and Community Partners

    Below is the summary of the six SLFG projects.

    Lady Bug Center at Churchill Gardens:

    The Ladybug Center at Churchill Gardens in Lansing, MI, aims to transform into a regenerative development, addressing environmental challenges exacerbated by Michigan's automotive industry. This project aims to go beyond sustainability by actively eliminating carbon and achieving a net-zero future. Focused on regenerative agriculture and housing, the community project aims to improve soil health, reduce waste, mitigate climate change, and enhance economic and social well-being. The proposed development includes single-family homes, apartments, retail space, a farm, and community gardens, designed in an ecovillage format on 8-12 acres in southwest Lansing. The project aims to measure its impact through quantifiable carbon credits and compliance with climate action project standards.

    The City of Flint: Building Upon the Existing Neighborhood Plan with Particular Focus on Economic Development and Identified Historic Business Corridors:

    The City of Flint adopted the Imagine Flint Master Plan in 2013, which led to the development of neighborhood plans in subsequent years. One such plan was for the Civic Park Neighborhood (2019), home to the historic Civic Park subdivision, recognized as one of the first planned subdivisions in America. Originally established for plant workers in Flint, the neighborhood experienced a rapid decline following the closure of the automotive industry and the subsequent departure of workers from the area. This study aims to build upon the existing neighborhood plan, particularly focusing on economic development and identifying historic business corridors. The goal is to delve deeper, update, and envision how these plans can be brought to fruition. Vacant corridors within the Flint community present untapped opportunities for transformation. These corridors offer significant potential for development. Thus, this study aims to create a welcoming and attractive space that can benefit both residents and local businesses in the Flint area.

    St. Johns North Gateway Project:

    The North Gateway Project Goal is to embark on a catalytic project by which momentum can be brought to this site via creative ways to honor the history of this region, provide visionary ways to redevelop this property via mixed uses of housing and retail/commercial spaces, and gain support for line-item funding for blight elimination/demolition of all or some of the remaining silos on this site.

    City of Utica: Downtown Sub-Area Plan Proposal:

    The City of Utica, a small community in west-central Macomb County, faces unique development challenges, including brownfield sites and a lack of cohesive development along Auburn Road. In collaboration with the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development, Utica is launching a comprehensive effort involving local government, community organizations, businesses, and residents. The focus is on completing a Comprehensive Master Plan update and creating a sub-area plan for the Downtown District to address issues such as vacant parcels, automotive and industrial uses, and empty storefronts. The primary goal is to enhance the overall quality of life, economic vitality, and attractiveness of the downtown area, with considerations for the potential relocation of municipal buildings to facilitate mixed-use development.

    2024 Master Plan Update, East Lansing:

    As part of the planned 2024 Master Plan update, the City of East Lansing seeks to engage all members of the community, including MSU students living on- and off-campus. The objective is to design and implement an engagement strategy to accomplish this goal.

    MorningSide Neighborhood on Detroit’s East Side:

    The MorningSide neighborhood on Detroit’s east side is well positioned to receive significant funding to upgrade its aging single-family housing stock. To receive such funding, a professional analysis of current housing conditions and needs is required. Three area nonprofit organizations, U-SNAP-BAC Nonprofit Housing Corporation, Habitat for Humanity Detroit and the MorningSide Community Organization have joined forces to request assistance from MSU students in the Urban and Regional Planning Program. 

    Exterior building conditions of vacant and occupied houses across the 190-block neighborhood can be surveyed and compared to previous condition studies such as the Detroit  Residential Parcel Survey. Interior home repair needs can be estimated through resident interviews (random sampling), email questionnaires and focus groups.

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  • 2024: NMU SLFG Projects

    Jelili Adebiyi, PhD

    Consumer Plastic Consumption, Reuse and Recycling in Upper Peninsula Michigan:

    The increasing global plastic production, projected to reach 1,124 million tons by 2050, poses significant sustainability challenges. The environmental consequences include massive economic losses, with 80-120 billion dollars lost annually globally due to short single-use plastic cycles. Despite efforts to address the issue, a substantial amount of plastic, both globally and in the United States, ends up in landfills, contributing to pollution and ecosystem losses. Stakeholders, including governments, scientists, and the public, have taken actions to mitigate plastic-related issues. However, there remains a crucial need for extensive consumer education on plastic sustainability, recycling practices, and reduced single-use consumption. The proposed research project aims to address these gaps by conducting a case study on consumer plastic behaviors in Marquette, Michigan, exploring factors influencing plastic consumption, reuse, and recycling knowledge and behaviors. The study would be undertaken in collaboration with Recycle906, Marquette County solid waste management authority. The findings from the study will be used to propose recommendations on how the plastic consumption footprint in Marquette can be reduced.

    Co-Constructing Circular Economic Opportunities Through University Waste to Organics Diversion Program:

    More than 108 billion pounds of food is wasted in the U.S. yearly, causing enormous economic loss and negative enviro-climatic impact. Most wasted food ends in landfills and is a major source of methane emissions in the U.S. Universities and colleges across the country are major food wasters. This presents circular economic opportunities for food waste diversion from landfills and repurposing into organic material for improved soil health and agricultural productivity. This project addresses this as it explores the opportunities for the diversion of food waste that is generated at Northern Michigan University dining to produce vermicompost.

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  • 2024: Wayne State University, Department of Urban Studies and Planning

    Carolyn G. Loh

    The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Code of Ethics calls upon all practitioners to “incorporate equity principles and strategies as the foundation for preparing plans and implementation programs to achieve more socially just decision-making.” However, the reality of planning with equity in mind is complicated. Some planners work in communities that broadly support equity goals; others do not. Some planners work in communities with the resources to create major public investments, while other planners must try to improve equity in very under-resourced communities. Planners in private practice must balance their own principles with the need to retain clients, who may have their own priorities. Increasing the emphasis on social equity in urban and regional planning is a core goal of both the academic association (ACSP) and the professional association (APA) of planners in the US. In Michigan, the Social Equity Committee of the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP), the Michigan State chapter of the American Planning Association, has in recent years conducted research on how local governments are incorporating equity goals into their comprehensive plans. This Student-Led Faculty Guided project seeks to identify attitudes toward and knowledge gaps about equity among practicing planners to help direct future research efforts.

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