Madison Heights named one of state’s best for business

City receives five stars, named best-practice community in study

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 4, 2013

MADISON HEIGHTS — The city of Madison Heights scored well in this year’s eCities study, with a five-star rating and a designation as a best-practice community when it comes to supporting business.

The annual study — conducted by UM-Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research, or iLabs, for short — has been evaluating the entrepreneurial climate of cities across the state of Michigan since 2007.

This year, they surveyed 102 communities from 37 counties in Michigan, home to 36 percent of Michigan residents and 40 percent of its college graduates. Nearly one-third of the state’s entrepreneurs call these communities home, accounting for more than $3.2 billion in self-employed income.

Only eight communities were noted as best-practice communities.

“It’s definitely quite an honor,” said Linda Williams, economic development coordinator for the city of Madison Heights. “We’ve always had a long-standing commitment to our small businesses and entrepreneurs, and this award puts a spotlight on what we do, upholding the city’s pro-business reputation.”  

In addition to Madison Heights, the other seven best-practice communities are Imlay City, Meridian Township, Midland, Mount Pleasant, Sterling Heights, Sturgis and Tecumseh. The eCities study took into consideration their incentives, programs and practices centered on developing business.

As a five-star community, Madison Heights was among 29 communities that spend a combined $2.2 million on economic development and encompass 15 percent of the state’s population with a professional degree.

To determine how good each community is for business, an index of items was compiled based largely on quantitative, publicly available data — tax rates, percentage of commercial versus residential properties and more — and collapsed into six factors.

These factors are clustering, which looks for a critical mass of business activity; incentives, which attract and retain business; growth, which examines brick-and-mortar construction and its value; policies, such as the city’s connection with businesses; community, including the city’s crime rates and quality of life; and education, such as the percentage of people with higher education.

“This is a snapshot of one year: 2013,” Williams said. “We had a lot of new retail growth, and we had some major developments in hi-tech — aerospace, defense and advanced manufacturing. There’s been a whole cluster of them. We’re quickly becoming a multi-faceted economy.

“This study was set up to look at our city’s entrepreneurial climate, as well,” she said. “With the continuation of our E-Lounge initiative, now in its third year, it’s definitely helped to promote a culture of entrepreneurship, which is a key sparkplug that provides a catalyst for our local growth and prosperity.”

The E-Lounge — short for Entrepreneur Lounge — usually meets the last Thursday of every month at the Biggby Coffee in Madison Heights. The E-Lounge is a collaborative effort between Biggby and the city, featuring guest speakers from local businesses in an informal dialogue that helps entrepreneurs find their way.

Madison Heights City Councilmember Robert Corbett praised the E-Lounge and said it’s just one of many ways the city promotes a pro-business climate.

He pointed to how city staff will walk new businesses through the process of obtaining the permits necessary to set up shop in the city, and how the city will provide tax incentives to attract and retain businesses that, in turn, will provide employment opportunities and boost the tax base.

“Our staff draws from more than 50 years of experience in helping businesses grow in the city,” Corbett said. “On some of the larger developments, we even help them obtain variances from the boards and commissions in the city. For example, if a business needs a larger sign that’s normally prohibited under the rules, we can work with them to package the request in a way that enhances the neighborhood in which they’re locating.”

The eCities award, he said, recognizes all of this.

“I think this is a strong endorsement to the approach the city has taken for several decades now,” Corbett said. “It’s certainly a pat on the back to the current city manager (Ben Myers) and his predecessor (Jon Austin), as to the environment we’ve developed, and the positive reputation we have within the tri-county business community.

“We’re known not only as a community that is friendly and open to businesses, but one that does a very good job of taking care of its own financial house,” Corbett said. “Within the last two years, at one of the worst points in the recession, Madison Heights actually had its credit rating upgraded, which has to mean something in the greater business community. A town that welcomes business and takes care of its own is, we hope, a place that businesses will want to invest in.”