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Dr. Kenneth Verberg of MSU, left, and William Mrdeza, right, ECMPDR chair, advise RED Team

Regional Planning Commission Tackling Job of Revitalizing Area Economy

Group Links Local, Tribal Governments, Acts as Conduit for Federal Grants

February 5, 2003       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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In these times so critical for the economic future of Michigan and the mid-state region, wouldn't it be great if we had a regional group to work on cooperation and growth?

Well, such a group is already in place, and in fact has been active for several decades.

Did you know there is a Regional Economic Development (RED) Team of a group which works to improve the economy of a 14 county area including the tri-counties of Bay, Midland and Saginaw?

How about the fact that this deliberative body acts as a conduit for and reviews all federal grants from this region before they are awarded?

And did you know that the governments represented on this body include the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe?

Did you know the name of this group is the East Central Michigan Planning and Development Regional Commission (ECMPDR)?

You probably have not heard of this group, since it keeps a low profile and operates out of a Saginaw office in an area populated mainly with medical offices and insurance companies. Meetings are held in relative obscurity, with infrequent press coverage, in places like the Horizons Center and the hotel at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant.

However, ECMPDR is now about to begin its 35th year of operation, having been launched by a U.S. Department of Commerce grant in March, 1968. William R. Mrdeza, of Mt. Pleasant, representing the chief of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, is chairperson.

The group is organized under a 1945 state law providing for a voluntary association of local governments. The stated purpose is: "meeting at regular intervals to discuss and study community challenges and problems of mutual interest and concern, and to mutually develop policy and recommendations for ratification and implementation by the region's general purpose local governments."

A major challenge for ECMPDR is retaining its funding base, since all counties are facing financial problems and loss of revenue sharing from the state, which has a huge budget deficit. Saginaw is currently inactive in ECMPDR because of budgetary problems and Bay County is attempting to shift responsibility for its $15,000 annual ECMPDR dues to cities and townships.

ECMPDR is in the process of adopting goals and objectives after recently conducting a strategic planning process with the help of consultant Dr. Kenneth Verberg of Michigan State University.

Among the broad purposes of ECMPDR are to help counties deal with land use issues, attract venturecapital, encourage small business start-ups, aid historical preservation and boost infrastructure development through federal and state grants.

ECMPDR will be greatly concerned with the land use policies to be developed under leadership of a bipartisan commission named by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. This commission is headed by former Attorney General Frank Kelley, a Democrat, and former Governor William Milliken, a Republican.

"In Michigan we are losing 10 acres every hour, 1,500 acres a week," the RED Team was told by Frank Starkweather, ECMPDR program manager for community and economic development.

The RED Team adopted a resolution supporting Michigan Land Use Partners, a statewide organization which is identifying land, especially farmland, to be targeted for preservation.

Starkweather pointed out that 57 cities in Michigan have historical districts which qualify them for development through historic tax credits. Bay City does not have such a district, therefore does not qualify for historic tax credits for development projects. Midland has "had a lot of problems" since it established a historic district, representatives noted.

The RED Team also indicated that it may recommend that ECMPDR become involved in anarea it has not previously addressed directly: education. This new thrust is being considered since student achievement and graduation rates are so vital to economic development, the main role of ECMPDR, Starkweather said.

Counties which are members of ECMPDR are: Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Iosco, Isabella, Midland, Ogemaw, Roscommon, Saginaw (currently inactive), Sanilac, Tuscola and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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