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Making Business Easier in Manistee County: Housing and Incentives

The demand for housing in Manistee County has continued to grow, and if we want to see action, there are many incentives and opportunities available. 

The Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a non-partisan City Council and County Commissioner Candidate Forum last week, highlighting the issues that impact the business community. A topic of discussion was the housing crisis in Manistee County, which resulted in businesses from multiple sectors (including healthcare, childcare, schools, manufacturing, hospitality, etc.) struggling to attract and retain employees. On top of that, the failure to develop has left blighted buildings spread across the county and unable to remain competitive with other Michigan communities. Housing is a recurring issue, and we need action-oriented leaders on the Manistee City Council and our Board of Commissioners. Without options for housing, how do our employers attract a workforce?

Taking our advocacy one step further, action is what we need. Our leaders should take advantage of available incentives to attract developers. During the Manistee City Council Candidate Forum, the overwhelming majority of candidates and incumbents agreed that incentives should be viewed and used as valuable, practical tools to encourage development. 

Q: Our area has many historic buildings that have deferred maintenance or need major upgrades to bring a building back to use.  Do you support the creation and approval of incentives to support redevelopment and the creation of economic opportunities?

Robert Barker (District 1): “Absolutely…if you give them [developers] a little tax revenue up front, you’ll get it all back when the workers start coming in, when the kids start going to the schools. More families mean more teachers, you get more ambulance drivers, more firemen…everything grows when you get more people.”

Seth Pratt (District 5): With criteria in place to ensure a timely refurbishing period, “I definitely think that looking at TIF incentives, and anything that we can do to continue to maintain these historic buildings, is something that we need to look at as a City Council and a community.”

Glenn Zaring (District 5): “I think that, in an effort to help them [historic buildings] be rehabbed or sustained, it is a good idea…a good contribution of our taxpayer’s money, to assist in that type of thing [historic preservation],” with parameters in place.

Q: The use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and other incentives can increase the property tax base in the short term, as well as the long term.  How would you communicate the value of incentives to the public?

Councilmember Cindy Lundberg (District 3): “The bigger picture is by doing that (TIF) we are rehabbing buildings,…bringing in money through what we are doing.” Lundberg concluded that “it is a really good idea, and I think it starts with conversations with our districts and our communities.”

Chris Shilts (District 3): “This is something we should talk about,…if it’s advantageous to the people downtown they should take advantage of it.” Shilts goes on to express concern for taxpayers and is prioritizing low taxes. 

These incentives play a major role in attracting developers and encouraging them to invest in Manistee County. According to a 2019 Northwest Michigan Target Analysis, conducted by Housing North, there was enough market support and demand for 925 new housing units in Manistee County through 2025. Specifically, 582 rentals and 323 owner units are needed.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is an incentive program used throughout the state, freezing property taxes at the pre-development rate (base property value) for a legal period of time.  Developers can use the differences in taxes paid to fix up or develop an empty parcel or blighted property.  When the term of the abatement program is finished, often 5 to 12 years, property taxes resume at the new, higher property tax rate for the completed development.

The Manistee County Land Bank is another tool that allows the local development of properties and parcels that may otherwise be difficult to redevelop. During the Forum, Manistee County Commissioner candidates and incumbents expressed interest in utilizing the Land Bank to develop housing. The webpage currently outlines the Land Bank’s priorities for use as including “home ownership, affordable housing, neighborhood revitalization, and returning properties to productive tax paying status.” The County Land Bank can offer properties at discounted rates or use Tax Increment Financing to attract developers to invest in a formerly abandoned lot or blighted building. 

Another incentive is the utilization of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, where local boards facilitate the redevelopment of “numerous underutilized or vacant commercial and industrial properties.” This allows places that may have environmental contamination to be cleaned up and put back into use.  There may be grants available from federal and state agencies, and the tax increment financing tool can also be used.  This can be a huge help for developers who otherwise may not decide to use this type of blighted land.  Having leaders who recognize and use these incentives is vital in our county. 

Manistee County and City have the tools to make development easy, attractive, and as affordable as possible. The majority of our City Council candidates seem to understand these incentives, and the next step is seeing them put into action. Manistee County needs to start using these incentives, to stay competitive with other communities, and to see results in the future. 

At the Chamber, we are dedicated to making business easier in Manistee County. Everything is dependent on people, the more employees that live and work in our county, the more our schools, businesses, and community benefit. By having forward-thinking leaders on the Manistee City Council and our Board of Commissioners, we can solve the housing need, giving businesses the tools they need to attract and retain a skilled workforce. Let’s not forget our businesses pay taxes too!
The Chamber hosted the Manistee City Council and County Commissioner Candidate Forums to give voters a non-partisan guide to the individuals running our local government. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. through 8:00 p.m on Nov. 8, and each vote counts!

Stacie Bytwork is the president and CEO of the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit organization. Her skill and strategic approach have made the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce a leader in the state with a model that includes economic development. She can be reached at 231-723-2575 or