Three Cass County expansions in worksPublished 9:32pm Thursday, February 7, 2013
CASSOPOLIS — Fourteen companies in Dowagiac, Edwardsburg, Penn Township and Silver Creek Township invested $8 million, creating 327 jobs in Cass County in 2012, its economic development point person advised the Board of Commissioners Thursday night.
“Right now, we have three very large expansion projects contemplated for 2013,” Cindy LaGrow said. “I can’t say what those all entail just yet, but they are existing businesses looking to grow, and all three are talking about investments of over $1 million, with many jobs attached to them. It’s really important to have that connection and relationship with those companies, so they have someone to go to if they need permitting assistance, rezoning assistance or brand-related assistance.”
LaGrow just completed her first year with Cass County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), which contracts with her for eight hours a week.
LaGrow has similar arrangements with Cassopolis as village manager and consulting for the City of Dowagiac, for which she used to be economic development director.
She has a master’s degree in public administration and works for private clients besides municipalities.
“It’s my opinion existing businesses are most important,” she said. “We want to help those businesses sustain and grow. Another component is attraction efforts. This last year, I met with 44 manufacturers in our county. Several had difficulties in a lot of different realms, from power surges to not being able to find a good, reliable company to do random drug testing. I’m kind of their liaison. I worked with a few companies on grant programs through their electrical utility to provide efficient lighting.”
In 2013, LaGrow said she also hopes to focus on “business-to-business connections” with Cass companies.
“I want to see as much business kept in this county as we can and not farmed out,” she said. “I traveled with the Michigan EDC to Atlanta, Ga., on my dime — not the county’s — to talk to site consultants, to make sure they know Cass County is open for business. We have property in our county for industrial development and manufacturing. We have people traveling 30, 40, 50 minutes. Over 70 percent of our workforce travels outside of Cass County to work. I’d like to see those numbers start to come down so people can live, work and play right here.”
LaGrow said in working with the three large expansion prospects, “A big part of that is working with Michigan Works! and Southwestern Michigan College and helping them find those employees right here. If we don’t provide service to them, they’ll go elsewhere.
“As I talked to these 44 companies, their big complaint was lack of qualified workers to fill a job,” LaGrow said “They want someone who will leave their guns, drugs and knives at home and show up to work on time.”
A partnership of the EDC, SMC, Michigan Works! and Lewis Cass Intermediate School District is going into schools to promote manufacturing careers to students. The effort started in Edwardsburg Jan. 9, but the Marcellus event was snowed out.
“Manufacturing can mean anything from engineering to machinists and maintenance,” she said. “There is going to be a community open house with the college and manufacturers to allow parents and students to go into some of these facilities and see what this means. It’s not dark and dirty. It’s very clean and high-tech. These companies in your county produce everything from caulk and cell phone covers to hummingbird nectar, with a lot of products in between. For students interested in manufacturing, there’s going to be a summer camp at the college with Lewis Cass ISD to begin filling that worker pipeline. We’re getting older in this county and need to be cognizant of that.”
LaGrow told Commissioner Robert Ziliak, R-Niles, that Hess Engineering’s bankruptcy has it tied up in court proceedings, but its plant on Fir Road remains attractive to other employers, based on inquiries.
“We’ve had five or six companies call on it in the past six months,” she said. “It’s a viable space in Milton Township and Supervisor (Robert) Benjamin and I have gone back and forth, talking about future use of that facility. It’s a fabulous building.”
EDC can help with industrial development revenue bonds and tax abatements, but the county lacks a revolving loan fund.
“I would like to establish one, though,” she apprised County Administrator Louis Csokasy.