Snyder visits Evart to discuss Rising Tide initiative

EVART — Gov. Rick Snyder paid a visit to Evart on Thursday to meet with city, school and area officials to discuss the Rising Tide program and how it is expected to benefit the city.

Rising Tide is an initiative meant to supply at-risk communities with tools to design and build a successful economic framework, and to also create a sustainable path toward economic stability and growth. Designed by Snyder and implemented by the Department of Talent and Economic Development, one community in each of Michigan's 10 regions were selected based on data cross-matched by the population poverty level, unemployment level, labor participation rate, rental occupied units, vacancy rates and the percentage of households receiving food stamps.

Evart was the city chosen in Region 4, the West Michigan region, which extends from Mason County south to Allegan County, east to Barry County and north to Osceola County. For Evart, the goal is to design technical assistance for the city and its administrative staff to develop long-range economic development strategies and short-term implementation steps within the next 12 to 18 months.

"We really are the comeback state and we should be proud of that. We set up this program because people here are really important," Snyder said. "We want to reach out and help, and that's why we created Rising Tide. We want to help communities help themselves and build that capacity for economic development. We want to make this a constructive experience."

Sue DeVries of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation discussed housing strategies and what the state has determined to be the main issues in Evart from the opinion of city residents and officials.

"We spent a lot of time listening to people and what the issues are, and what came up over and over again is Evart has a problem with blighted properties, poor condition of their rental properties, the city doesn't have funding to hire someone that's dedicated to code enforcement and that homeowners don't know how to access resources available to fix up their houses," DeVries said.

She added though a small number of homeowners have completed applications to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to take advantage of money set aside for home repair, the city did not receive grant funding for blight removal because the application failed to score high enough. However, she said the city received feedback so it can submit a better grant in the future.

"That technical assistance is important because there's more funding coming in the future," DeVries said. "We want to help them so the city has a knowledge to get those funds. It's really important because we can come in and provide assistance, but having those skills and knowledge is more important than what we can do here. The success in Evart is going to come from Evart and the technical assistance from Rising Tide."

She also said Evart would benefit from shared best practices used by the housing strategy used in Grand Rapids and an ordinance to hold landlords accountable for repairing their rental properties.

Snyder added to the topic, saying Evart also could benefit by looking at the housing strategy used in Detroit, applying for part of the upcoming $188 million blight removal grant and considering the creation of an incentive for landlords to make environmental improvements to their rental units.

Evart City Manager Zack Szakacs said though the program has just begun, he believes Rising Tide will be extremely helpful for the city in the long run.

"The city is turning around," he said. "We know we need to fix things and we're moving forward. There's still a lot of research and studying we're doing."

Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, expressed his gratitude to Snyder for the Rising Tide program, saying he was honored Evart was chosen.

"Rising Tide gives us an opportunity and this is our chance," he said. "Showing up in a small town and making a difference is a big deal. You coming here makes a huge difference to us and it's really important to me."

Snyder replied, saying he pleased to be a part of the process for the city and will make sure progress happens.

"I'm really excited to be here and it means a lot to see the turnout of leadership in your community," he said. "You have to spend the time and make the investment. It's not about who is in charge, it's about getting it done. What I'll do is make sure I talk to the team of people working on Rising Tide in Evart and make sure we follow up on the particular points we discussed. We want to take care of those issues."