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November 16, 2012

Sterling Heights ‘in good company’ with eCities award

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

When it comes to selling its appeal as a business-friendly locale, Sterling Heights is doing it right.

So said a panel of entrepreneurs, who declared the city among eight “top performers” in the 2012 eCities program conducted by iLabs, the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research.

The annual program, now in its sixth year, evaluates participating communities on their success in fostering entrepreneurial growth and economic development. This year’s edition involved more than 100 municipalities statewide.

The first portion of the two-pronged study is quantitative, assessing — via 32 data points — the “on the ground nuts and bolts numbers that show what the community is doing,” explained Tim Davis, director of iLabs.

Topics evaluated include tax rates and abatements; concentrations of business property and municipal infrastructure investments; government’s use of economic development tools; residents’ education levels; and the area’s socioeconomic and cultural characteristics.

From that measure, iLabs designated 26 four-star communities, including Sterling Heights, and 27 five-star communities.

For the second year, eCities’ qualitative portion challenged municipal leaders to “pitch their communities” to entrepreneurs by highlighting their strengths and available resources in written format, said Davis.

The 11-member entrepreneur panel reviewed those submissions and whittled them down to the top eight, which also included Alpine Township, Grand Blanc, Grand Rapids, Imlay City, Meridian Township, Midland and Troy.

For the first time, the winners received a professionally produced video, in which city officials could expound upon the characteristics that resonated most with the panel, said Davis.

The cities can use those brief video clips — the production of which were made possible through a DTE Energy Foundation grant — for marketing purposes, as they see fit.

In Sterling’s video, Economic Development Manager Kasey Green and Macomb-Oakland University INCubator Executive Director Julie Gustafson specifically touted how the Velocity Collaboration Center, where the INCubator is based, helps supply local businesses with training and resources and helps foster fledgling companies.

The eCities videos also were posted on YouTube and screened at a ceremony at U-M Dearborn late last month, where Green accepted the award on Sterling Heights’ behalf.

“We’re thrilled to be honored,” she said. “We’re working really hard here to promote Sterling Heights and really, truly support our businesses, so to be recognized for those efforts is really great.”

Considering the other seven top performers, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the city was “in good company.”

“I think that the results in Sterling Heights speak for themselves and really, we’re seeing a lot of positive momentum,” he said. “A lot of commercial investment throughout the community is under way.”

Thirty-four percent of the state’s residents and nearly half of its college graduates reportedly reside in the 114 communities surveyed for this year’s eCities program. According to iLabs, the goal of the research study, which began in 2007, is to identify and share the best practices from those excelling municipalities.

“We want to share these types of things to help local governments across the state understand what’s working with these businesses,” said Davis. “The purpose of doing this is really to try to help local governments.”

For more information on eCities, visit http://www.umdilabs.com/ecities. For more information on Sterling Heights Economic Development, visit www.sh-econdev.net.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.