Is community growth a good or bad thing?

Like people, communities are either green and growing or ripe and rotting.

I recently attended a meeting in the greater Grand Rapids area where the discussion centered on how we can benefit Michigan and its communities. In typical brainstorm fashion, our large group was divided into smaller tables to discuss and generate ideas which would be reported out to the larger group.

After one group’s suggestion that we help communities recruit individuals, an audience member respectfully suggested, “Why grow?” When the response was “to keep our communities from stagnating,” the audience member persisted that growth is bad, causing unnecessary congestion and build out, and that we should learn to live with what we have. Polite as the discussion was, I resisted the urge to jump up and debate the topic that day.

So there is no misunderstanding, growth is a good thing, if done right. There are countless examples from the old days, and unfortunately present day too, of poorly managed growth in urban sprawl, over taxing of utilities, etc. That is bad growth.

Communities are just like people, they are either green and growing or ripe and rotting, nothing stays the same. Each of us tries to grow personally, professionally and keep in shape, as a result we are better than we were before. In fact, we can choose to continually grow and improve. Yes, we all know that one guy from high school that 20 years later is still sitting on the couch re-living the same game-winning-touchdown-pass he caught. That is an example of no growth. Communities are the same, they can’t sit around remembering the good ol’ days. Instead, they need to look forward and position themselves for a positive, productive future.

If you’ve been paying attention, Michigan has been hemorrhaging for 10 years when three major companies ended 400,000+ manufacturing jobs. This created a ripple effect and tailspin of people leaving our state, taking their skilled talents and families with them.  Although Michigan has done many things right and we are gaining back ground, we still need talent.  We need people to move back to Michigan bringing their skills and talents, but also their families, ideas and civic involvement. It is this growth that Michigan and our communities desperately need in order to be a vibrant state.

Here’s the fun part.  Yes, we have to encourage and embrace growth in order to be better, but we must be smart about it.  As communities and as a state we need to decide what type of growth works, where best to encourage it and what happens when it comes. In other words, we must do some advanced planning so that the growth we so desperately need is organized, positive and helps us get to where we want to go.

And here’s the really fun part, there are loads of people and resources out there that can help.  From your local economic development organization, in our case the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, to the MSU Extension, regional planning agencies such as Networks Northwest or the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments to the Michigan Municipal League and others.

Michigan has a bright future, and I hope growth will be part of it!

Michigan State University Extension's partner Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) seeks to assist and create growing and thriving communities through collaboration with many entities to achieve their goals.

Michigan State University Extension has had a unique relationship with the regional economic development organization Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, the NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension as it provides leadership to statewide programs sponsored by MSU Extension.

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