Centreville, Mich. — St. Joseph County Commissioners took a big step Tuesday in the name of economic development.
The county will invest $1.2 million over the next four years for services and activities provided in a partnership between its Economic Development Corporation and the Kalamazoo-based Southwest Michigan First Partnership.
All of the money will come from the county’s delinquent tax fund. Quarterly payments of $75,000 will be made, according to St. Joseph County Administrator Judy West-Wing.
The new partnership was a two-step agreement involving the county commission, county EDC and SMP. It begins Feb. 1 and continues through Dec. 31, 2016. A clause allows the contract to be terminated by either party with or without cause on or after Dec. 31, 2013.
It was the second time in a year that the county’s delinquent tax fund became the focus of potential economic development investment.
In March 2011, Trine University in?Angola, Ind., made a $6.9 million partnership proposal to St. Joseph County for economic development. Five months later and after much public discussion, Trine withdrew the proposal.
The St. Joseph County EDC had been considering a partnership with Southwest Michigan for nearly a year. The proposal was reviewed by the county’s Lansing attorneys, Cohl, Stoker & Toskey, P.C.
To make the investment proposal legal, the county commission had to approve two agreements. First was an agreement with its own EDC. Then an agreement was approved for services between EDC and Southwest Michigan Partnership.
The county would transfer $300,000 a year to its EDC which, in turn, would make quarterly payments of $75,000 to SMP.
Under the plan, SMP will provide three full-time employees to work in St. Joseph County with offices in Sturgis and Three Rivers. St. Joseph County County EDC Director Cathy Knapp will be one of the employees.
SMP will provide quarterly updates on Southwest Michigan Partners within the county area.
EDC is expected to provide SMP with access to client files, electronic databases and grant documents.
Southwest Michigan First fostered the creation of the Kalamazoo Promise college scholarship program; the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, a life science accelerator that has launched more than three dozen start-ups; the Michigan Medical Device Accelerator; the $65 million Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund and First Angels, a network providing seed money to young entrepreneurs.
County leaders hope some of that success can happen locally.
Knapp thanked commissioners for their vote of confidence.
“You have my heartfelt thanks for supporting the EDC and putting us in a position to see great things happen,” she said.
Commissioner Don Eaton, who made the motion to approve the agreements, said he sees talent on both sides of the partnership.
“Now it’s time for work and we will be watching,” he said.
By Terry Katz