CEDS Spotlight: Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission

The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) has the potential to be a true road map that brings together many voices from your region to form a common vision for economic prosperity and resilience.  Through the CEDS Spotlight case studies series, the NADO Research Foundation is highlighting best practices and innovative elements of CEDS planning, development, and implementation from EDDs and other regional development organizations across the country.

In 2014, as staff from Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission (EUPRPDC) prepared to write the region’s five-year CEDS update, Governor Rick Snyder unveiled a new statewide planning program, the Regional Prosperity Initiative (RPI).  RPI has two major purposes:  to better align service boundaries for state services and to fund a grant program to encourage better regional collaboration and effective outcomes. After a year of input from a variety of public and private stakeholders, a new Michigan service delivery map had been created which identified ten “prosperity regions” that state departments are encouraged to align with to improve efficiency and impact.

“We studied the requirements of both the CEDS and RPI and saw an opportunity to innovate by combining requirements of both plans into one unified plan for the region that would be stronger, more inclusive, and serve both state and federal economic development programs,” says Eric Wedesky, Planner II at EUPRPDC.  “Timing was on our side” with the CEDS re-write coinciding with the rollout of RPI, notes EUPRPDC Executive Director Jeff Hagan.  “EDA understood the opportunity we had by aligning these plans.”

EUPRPDC engaged in robust multi-level stakeholder engagement efforts to gain input from a diverse, informed group of stakeholders and experts to create a unified, cohesive strategy for regional economic development.  This included a Stakeholder Committee which addressed broad, high-level elements of the process and a smaller oversight group called the Regional Economic Development Advisory Collaborative (REDAC) that had been involved in previous CEDS planning processes.  The Stakeholder Committee and REDAC worked together to develop six focus areas for the plan.  These were: Education; Economic and Workforce Development; Tourism and Natural Resources; Health Care; Infrastructure; and Agriculture and Local Food Systems.  Six focus groups, co-facilitated by Michigan State University Extension, were then organized to dive into these topics to provide input for the plan.

Engagement crossed the public and private sectors and involved stakeholders from economic and workforce development, education, health care, transportation, agriculture, tribal communities, and others and consisted of 12 meetings over nine months.  Having multiple channels of stakeholder engagement that met the goals of both the CEDS and RPI plan were critical for this rural region.  “Stakeholder engagement can be difficult in large, rural areas,” says Hagan.  “Fortunately, the focus group meetings were able to serve as mini-SWOT sessions where we received valuable feedback.”  The meetings encouraged involvement from new participants and groups that previously had not participated in planning efforts and injected new life into regional conversations.

The completed plan, called Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula, was met with great enthusiasm from EUPRPDC’s board, EDA, and the state of Michigan.  The forward-thinking, comprehensive approach of this integrated plan has led to increased funding opportunities from the state, as well as access to EDA’s grant portfolio.  Funding has supported regional efforts to provide technical assistance to local governments; conduct a broadband study, housing analysis, and transportation logistics study; buy videoconferencing equipment for the three county seats in the region; and launch infrastructure projects to support wider regional economic development.

Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula can serve as a strong model to districts that are looking to integrate other planning processes with the CEDS.  This approach requires the right mix of timing, inclusive stakeholder engagement, and open communication with EDA and other funders.  Overall, the combined planning process led to a stronger and more thorough planning process and final plan than if these efforts had been conducted individually.  Says EUPRPDC’s Eric Wedesky, “The plan is a unified economic development vision for the region where the public and private sector are working together to make the Eastern Upper Peninsula attractive to enterprise, students, tourists, and residents.”

Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula serves as both the region’s CEDS plan and Regional Prosperity Initiative (RPI) plan

An interview with Jeff Hagan, Executive Director, and Eric Wedesky, Planner II, Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission:

What does the CEDS mean to your region? How has it helped shape the conversation about regional economic development?

To the Eastern Upper Peninsula, the CEDS means regionalism, collaboration, and direction. As a sparsely-populated, rural, three-county region, our local private and public partners know that it requires a concerted effort pulling from all of the region’s resources to move the needle in the right direction. This notion blurs jurisdictional boundaries in a sense, and when stakeholders come together, they do so knowing that a positive result from the CEDS in one corner of the region will propel economic development elsewhere in the region. The CEDS has long been a rallying force in the region, which spurs collaborative efforts.

In the most recent update, EUPRPDC developed subsections of the blueprint by convening groups of experts from specific focus areas to craft policies that would influence their work—a new technique in the region. Together the belief in the region and willingness to collaborate resulted in a direction that has been extolled and implemented. EUPRPDC, economic development organizations, local governments, and private partners have all grasped the concepts of Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula and have worked the strategies, laying a foundation for the future.

How have you incorporated the concept of resilience into your CEDS?

Resilience in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula is predicated more on economic vitality than natural events.  The region’s economy has long relied on public sector jobs, tourism-related sectors, healthcare, natural resources, and proximity to Canada. To become more resilient, Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula is focused on, among other variables, economic diversification and talent development. For example, EUPRPDC has partnered with economic and community developers on projects ranging from transportation and logistics, to broadband, to placemaking, to recreation, to career technical education—primarily to ensure that what is controllable within the region is done so according to best practices and sound management of limited resources.

What ways have you developed and nurtured partnerships with both traditional partners and underrepresented groups?

The unique opportunity that EUPRPDC faced when combining its state economic development program (Michigan’s Regional Prosperity Initiative (RPI)) with the CEDS process was to broaden and ramp-up stakeholder participation. CEDS has its stakeholder participation requirements; RPI, too. In the past, resources for CEDS development were limited, which meant that while the boxes were checked, a more robust approach was less feasible. RPI injected a new funding stream into the region’s economic development delivery, and EUPRPDC capitalized on the opportunity. The commission was able to reach out beyond its traditional committee to drill down on the six focus areas of the plan: education, economic and workforce development, infrastructure, agriculture and local food systems, health care, and tourism and natural resources. Each focus area had a meeting where the region’s leading professionals in the field joined together to participate in SWOT analyses, resulting in achievable action items for the duration of the 5-year plan. EUPRPDC was able to shore up its participation from its local tribal partners, health care sector, and agriculture sector, which are all key in the region’s economy.

How have you taken your CEDS process from planning to implementation? Any strong examples?

As combining the CEDS with the RPI allowed for a more inclusive planning process, it also has provided for a more robust implementation program. Traditionally in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, implementation of the CEDS resulted if EDA grants to enable private sector growth were secured or if private firms propelled their own operations. With the combination of the two programs, EUPRPDC was able to play a larger role in actively implementing the CEDS.

Several key projects have been taken or are underway. The Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation-Logistics Strategy—a collaboration with EDA, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, local economic developers, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario—is identifying ways with which the region can maximize its transportation infrastructure and border location to attract new sectors. The Eastern Upper Peninsula 2016 Internet Access Survey charted existing internet access and gauged demand for improved services by placing a hard copy survey in every mailbox in the region (9% response rate), which has resulted in two economic development tools that developers are using in conversations with internet service providers.  Previous projects initiated under the RPI include a Regional Target Market Analysis, primarily focused on the three “Core” communities of the EUP (Sault Ste. Marie, Newberry and St. Ignace) and the 5-Year Department of Natural Resources Recreational Plan Development Project that successfully provided technical assistance to local municipalities to equip them with plans required to access vital grant funds. Lastly, the Community Development Mini-Grants program has acted as a source of gap financing for local projects to get off the ground and enhance communities’ appeal. These projects would not have been possible without the funding and vision that came out of the merger of the two programs.

Click here to download Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula (PDF)

Download Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission’s Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula here (PDF).

Download the 2016 EUP CEDS Performance report here (PDF)

Want to learn more about Elevating the Eastern Upper Peninsula?  Contact Eric Wedesky, Planner II at EUPRPDC, at: [email protected].

Click here to access additional case studies in the CEDS Spotlight series

Do you have a best practice or innovative approach to developing, designing, and implementing the CEDS?  Contact NADO RF Program Manager Brett Schwartz at  [email protected].

This case studies series is presented through NADO’s Stronger CEDS, Stronger Regions program, funded through a generous grant from the US Economic Development Administration.

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