Morning Sun

Mt. Pleasant area seems to be ‘dead in the water’

- Jim Engler is a Mt. Pleasant real estate agent and a lifelong Isabella County resident.

For many years the area has been and still is a great place to raise a family. The area has been, for the most part, recession proof, meaning that we didn’t suffer recessions to the degree that most of the auto-dependent State of Michigan would.

In my opinion there were three main reasons for that. We had three main industries or businesses that did not depend on automobile­s. Oil and gas, farming, and the State of Michigan. These three survived and thrived employing people who were able to support the schools, the restaurant­s, the grocery stores, car dealers, churches and the many mom and pop businesses in the area.

The oil and gas industry:

(We) had many independen­t small companies. Some owned drilling rigs, service rigs, and oilfield services and some were the deal makers who raised money from investors and paid to have the wells drilled. That industry changed, through no fault of the area, but it changed. The center of the oil business moved north and with it the service companies followed by the deal makers. While we still have some of the oil industry located here it pales in comparison to what it once was.

Farming: At one time there were more than 400 farms located around Mt. Pleasant.

Each farm employed family members and larger ones employed extra help. They bought farm equipment from one of the three equipment dealers in the area, Dutcher John Deere, Lee Equipment Internatio­nal, or Farrand Implement Case/oliver. They bought and sold feed and grain to one of the three mills in town, Bader Milling, Collins Milling or the Farm Bureau. That industry changed, thru no fault of the area, but it changed. Bigger farms started buying smaller neighborin­g farms and became bigger to the point where we now have less than 100 farms.

State of Michigan: The Mt. Pleasant area has always had a good number of people who made their living working for the State of Michigan. We have always had Central Michigan University and at one time we had the Mt. Pleasant Regional Center. The Regional Center, of course, has closed and the University seems to be shrinking so we no longer have the high percentage of State workers in this area.

In addition to the above lost jobs, we have lost many other businesses that were good employers for this area in the past. To list a few, Fabiano Brothers,

Chippewa Beverage, Coca Cola Bottling, Embers, Westown

IGA, and recently Big Boy, Lasenorita­s, Ruby Tuesdays, Kroger, JC Penny, and Merchantil­e Bank. All of these lost jobs were people who were part of our community, these jobs allowed them to purchase homes, autos, clothes, groceries, and allowed them to send their kids to school and college. This job loss affects the whole area.

We currently seem kind of dead in the water. We have lots of empty store fronts along Mission St, downtown, and on Pickard St. Developmen­t seems to be at a standstill; the only new businesses seem to be cannabis stores. A big part of the problem is the local government and their planning and zoning department­s seem to be anti-developmen­t. Mt. Pleasant in particular is known to be if not the the hardest, certainly one of the hardest places, to develop in Michigan.

Their “Character Based Zoning” is wrong and bad for the area. At best Mt. Pleasant is a “B” grade market, there are hundreds of “B” grade markets for national chains to pick from and Mt. Pleasant gets crossed of the list fast because of their zoning regulation­s.

Zoning and planning boards need to understand that their job is to help developers develop properties, not to find ways to make it harder to develop. The zoning regulation­s need to be at least fair, unlike the current restrictio­ns in Mt. Pleasant. This area needs to develop some industrial vacant land with utilities in place so we at least have a chance on attracting new users. I’m not talking about odd 1-2 acre sites currently available but larger parcels of 10 acres or more that will serve the needs of small industrial users.

The new $300 million cheese plant in St. Johns wanted to be in this area; they will employ more than 200 people with good jobs. We had no place for them so they moved on.

The lost state jobs, oil field jobs, and the farm jobs have been replaced by casino jobs and other service industry jobs. It is great that we at least have those jobs but we need more and better jobs that small manufactur­ers would produce.

With the exception of

Delfield, Morbark, Bandit, United Brands and Treelan we don’t have any manufactur­ing jobs in the area. The actual city shrunk by 5,000 people at the last census, the University enrollment is down by 40%. Both the city and the University need to get their acts together or this town and area are in serious trouble. The tax base is shrinking and taxes are already too high. Turning high-end properties into non-profit uses only worsens the problem.

The Embers, Coke Plant, and Westown IGA, are just three examples of tax-paying properties that have been converted to non-profits. Saginaw Valley, Grand Valley, Western Michigan, and Ferris are all growing at the expense of CMU. Why?

Midland, Alma, Clare, and Big Rapids continue to grow — why not Mt. Pleasant? Middle Michigan Developmen­t is part of the problem, in my opinion. They have a fancy website, all kinds of facts and figures, and plenty of awards for tourism, but when was the last time they created any jobs from new companies?

I know this rant seems directed at Mt. Pleasant but it is about the whole area of which Mt. Pleasant is the heart. We can build a new $10 million Road Commission Building and a new $40 million Sheriffs Office and Jail but they don’t create any good jobs.

I’m not sure what the solution is but what we are doing now is not working. CMU needs to figure out fast what is happening to their enrollment and fix it. The city needs to loosen up a bit and become more friendly to developers after they fix their zoning regulation­s.

The City, Union Township, Isabella County, CMU, and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe need to work together to come up with a plan to turn this ship around, everyone in this area has a vested interest in seeing this happen. Develop a Industrial area with municipal services, replace or redo Middle Michigan Developmen­t.

Come up with a plan to offer competitiv­e incentives to help attract new tax base to this area, each new manufactur­ing job creates 2.5 private sector jobs.

This is not a liberal or conservati­ve issue or a Democrat or Republican issue but rather a community issue — a community that serves us all. We no longer are recession proof.

I have lived and worked in this area all of my 71 years and have owned good businesses and failed businesses. I raised my family here and sent my children through the public schools. I attend church regularly at Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart. I have served on boards and commission­s. I’m a member of this community.

 ?? ?? Jim Engler
Jim Engler

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