‘Rockford is open for business’
By BETH ALTENA
Members of Rockford Economic Development Corporation met Friday, January 18 to hear highlights of a proposed industry and business recruitment plan that would include a comprehensive website as well as brochures. Presented by creative director and producer of the marketing materials, Jeff Lewis, the theme of the material will be “Rockford is open for business.”
“The homepage could include links to success stories, sites and services, infrastructure, utilities, master plans, fire rating, routes and access to airports, the business environment, the costs of doing business in Rockford,” said Lewis.
Lewis said the purpose of the material would be to encourage the economy in Rockford by showing the advantages to business to locate here. It could include Rockford’s various board and commission, the relationship with Rockford Public Schools, as well other information such as access to capital. Lewis said a website would somewhat resemble the one of The Right Place, which helps industry find appropriate locations in which to invest in West Michigan.
He suggested downloadable or viewable PDFs which could show decision-makers where Brownfield development is available, where we currently have tool and die operations, where tax abatements have been approved and identify business clusters. The site would allow an opportunity for those considering locating here to read success stories—such as the Rockford Brewery and Byrne Industrial. “The live and work section would be the touchy-feely part,” Lewis explained.
Lewis said the marketing material is in the construction phase and web site development would be done by Stacy Niedzwieki. Updates would be handled in a timely fashion to keep the site from getting out of date. City Manager Michael Young said the site would be a resource for those seeking information about what is available here. “For better or worse we get a lot of phone calls about liquor licenses.”
Neil Blakeslee suggested there might be a way to keep available properties as part of the site, possibly allowing realtors to upload information or buy advertising.
Bob Winegar said he has been considering many of the things that make the town more attractive to business than other communities and noted the state-of-the-art waste water treatment plant as well as the river.
Young pointed out to the EDC members that they are responsible for tax abatement policy and that council has been very generous to businesses asking for tax abatements. With the recent legislature phasing out Personal Property Tax, however, this may not have as much import as it used to, he noted.
Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Coon asked about the ramifications of a replacement tax to the eliminated PPT and whether this would affect the process of tax abatement. “That’s one of the questions the lame duck legislature didn’t have time to work out,” Young answered. He noted that a lot of tax abatement has been for the addition of equipment. “Now all we have left is real property tax.”
Winegar asked about the relationship between real and personal property tax and Young described, “If you took a building and picked it up and shook it, everything that falls out is personal property.” Young said twenty years ago there was more of an emphasis on job creation than in investing in equipment. Dave Rasmussen said with newer technology businesses can invest in equipment and not have to hire workers as part of expanding business.
Although the legislature is eliminating the Personal Property Tax in phases, Young said the impact to the city is already taking place. “As of December 31, any business with personal property at $40,000 or lower is eliminated. That is 104 businesses in downtown alone.”
“It’s a mess but they were hell-bent to eliminate the Personal Property Tax,” Young said. “They determined they’d fix it later and we all know what that is like.”
The board also heard about potential future plans for the old museum building at the dam. Young said the new museum location—the former court house at City Hall—is well under way with renovation. When renovations are complete the Rockford Historical Society will have 180 days to vacate the older building. The new occupants of the old museum will be required to provide public restrooms as part of any deal. Young said proposals for non-profit or for profit use of the building will all be considered.
Blakeslee said he sees a need for office as a priority for downtown. He thought office use for the building would be nice because it wouldn’t compete for parking with the many evening activities that take place downtown.