Eastpointe welcomes community development fellow

By: Maria Allard | Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 20, 2023




EASTPOINTE — Last month, city officials welcomed a new member to the team.

On May 15, John Kraus began his position as Eastpointe’s community development fellow.

The community development fellow’s role is to support business and economic development; sustainable spaces and solutions; and marketing, branding and promotion activities in the city.

“Our Family Town is delighted to welcome John Kraus as our community development fellow,” City Manager Mariah Walton said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to work with John on a number of important projects that will have a lasting impact long after his fellowship. In particular, we look forward to developing evergreen sustainability initiatives, which he will be leading during his time in Eastpointe. Finally, he will play an indispensable role in retaining our status as a Certified Redevelopment Ready Community.”

The city of Eastpointe was one of 10 communities chosen to host a fellow through the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan. Since Kraus is employed through CEDAM, the association is paying his salary, not the city of Eastpointe.

The fellowship was made possible with funding and support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Fellows are placed in communities for 15 months and work on a variety of projects to increase local collaboration and remove barriers to development. The communities are all engaged in the Redevelopment Ready Communities program.

CEDAM’s community development fellowship was developed in 2018 to help address common challenges that communities face. According to Sarah Teater, director of capacity building at CEDAM, Eastpointe identified ambitious and impactful projects that will make a difference in the community.

Kraus will work alongside Eastpointe Economic Development Manager Ian McCain and other city officials. Business attraction and retention is a primary goal. Kraus plans to do “a lot of in-person outreach” by visiting local businesses on Monday and Wednesday afternoons to hear concerns and share ideas.

“The businesses want to continue to attract consumers,” Kraus said. “Each business is unique, and we want to give them that sense of comfort and provide external resources.”

One strategy is for Kraus to seek out foundations that assist business owners in becoming and staying successful. Marketing also is a tool, and creating a strong website can expand a business’s customer base.

One issue currently facing many businesses in the city is parking, due to the construction on Nine Mile Road, which is being done in phases.

“We’re hearing the concerns,” Kraus said.

The city is repairing Nine Mile Road, including the Nine Mile corridor, which includes the Police Department, the 38th District Court, the Fire Department, and the Eastpointe Community Garden. The corridor revitalization project will improve mobility and accessibility for drivers, pedestrians, bikers and transit riders, and improve sustainable green space.

This fellowship is Kraus’ first time working in a municipal setting.

“There’s a learning curve. We’re slowly building momentum with this process,” Kraus said. “It really requires me to get thrown into all the moving parts of how the city operates.”

Ashlee Brown, one of the city’s new entrepreneurs, has just opened her business, Sweetie Marie’s, at 23055 Gratiot Ave., north of Nine Mile Road. The establishment offers ice cream, cake, treats and much more.

“I feel like it’s a prime location,” she said. “The city has been great making sure everything is in order and getting my paperwork completed.”

The self-taught pastry chef held a mini grand opening June 13 but won’t officially open until later this month. Brown is a 2005 East Detroit High School graduate, resides in Eastpointe and decided to open her business not far from home.

“I really wanted to do something in the community,” she said.

That includes giving back to the community in the same manner she experienced while in high school. Brown had thought about going into nursing and was involved in a co-op program as a high school student. She changed her mind about the profession and got into culinary arts. She would like to be able to offer others on-the-job experience within her shop.

Kraus holds a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and a master’s degree in community development from the University of Detroit Mercy.

He is a recipient of the Stephen Vogel Graduate Award for exhibiting excellence in thinking about and understanding the urban and built environment issues surrounding the city of Detroit.

To stay up to date with the community development fellowship, visit the city of Eastpointe’s website at cityofeastpointe.net, the city of Eastpointe’s Facebook page, or email Ian McCain at imccain@eastpointecity.org.