In Hillsdale County, Michigan, neighbors still know one another by name and take the time to say hello. Historic buildings and quaint mom-and-pop shops line the streets. “It is like Mayberry or something out of a Norman Rockwell painting,” says Susan Smith, Executive Director of the Hillsdale County Economic Development Partnership. “It is like taking a step back in time, with the benefits of technology at your fingertips.”
While some residents have roots in Hillsdale County going back generations, plenty of newcomers have been attracted to the community’s old-fashioned charm. “I was born and raised in the Metropolitan-Detroit area, but spent summers visiting rural communities in Michigan,” Ms. Smith remembers. “When it came time to raise our family we left the bustle of city life and moved to the country and have never looked back.”
Hillsdale County’s small town charm is not the only aspect of the community that is attracting attention; its remarkable economic success is also turning heads. “After the national economic downturn of 2009-2010 in the U.S., Hillsdale County fought its way back with the independence and determination ingrained in our people.” A dedicated workforce has been a key secret to success, Ms. Smith states. “A lot of it is the people. When you talk to employers here, over and over again I hear, ‘these are the hardest working people that I have ever employed.’ Companies are very impressed with our workforce and the citizens in general.”
During the economic downturn, Hillsdale County unemployment spiked at 18.2 percent in 2010 – then quickly bounced back. From 2012 through 2014, Hillsdale County’s manufacturing jobs grew at a rate of 6.8 percent, while the national growth rate was just 1.2 percent during that same period. “It is now steady in the 5 to 6 percent range,” Ms. Smith reports.
As the only county in Michigan bordering both Ohio and Indiana, Hillsdale County enjoys a central location that is ideal for commerce. “You look at Hillsdale County and you think that is in the middle of nowhere. But it is actually in the middle of everything.” The Port of Toledo is only 77.2 miles away, while Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Lansing Airport are just 88.5 miles and 68.9 miles away respectively. Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge to Canada is 105 miles away, while Chicago is located 191 miles from Hillsdale County.
Agriculture remains one of the region’s largest economic sectors. Hillsdale County boasts 1,081 farms ranging from “green house operations growing vegetables or perennials on 20 acres of land to cash grain operations covering thousands of acres producing hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain.” Soybeans, corn, and wheat are the most commonly grown agricultural product. Local farmers also raise beef, sheep, and swine and grow vegetables, fruits, flowers, and forest product, bringing in an average income of $58,000 per farm. The sector is expected to continue thriving. “Because of the suitability of soils for a variety of crops, the favorable climatic conditions, and favorable markets, farming will continue to be a major part of the local economy.”
Healthcare is also an important part of the local economy. “Postings in this cluster account for 20 percent of all online job postings in the county and nearly doubled between Q4 2014 and Q1 2015,” Ms. Smith shares. Hillsdale Community Health Center is the county’s locally owned and operated hospital. Featuring state of the art care, the longtime provider is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
With 774 acres of industrial parks spread across five separate locations, Hillsdale County has the capacity to support a range of industrial, manufacturing, and tech operations. Hillsdale Manufacturing and Technology Park covers 170 acres of vacant, buildable land that is free from environmental contaminants. Water, electric, and wastewater utilities are all municipally owned and operated at competitive rates. In addition, the park is equipped with 72 strands of high-speed fiber-optic network with triple redundancy that is available for commercial traffic.
“As the county seat and largest city in Hillsdale County, Hillsdale is truly at the center of great changes countywide. As Hillsdale’s new city manager, I’m excited to help promote and develop our community. Some of Hillsdale’s features that attracted my family to the community include: conservative values, high quality educational, medical and recreational opportunities, a wide variety of housing and business site options, the historic downtown district, aggressive economic development platform, and Hillsdale’s Municipal Airport that boasts a 5,000 foot runway and access to one of the fastest fiber optic networks in the country. So, if you’re looking for that special place to setup your business or just call home I encourage you to check out Hillsdale, you’ll be glad you did.”
Twenty-seven acre Jonesville Industrial Park offers parcels ranging in size from 3.9 to 6.6 acres. “The price of land is negotiable based on investment,” says Ms. Smith. Another plus, “there is no city or county income tax.” A phase 1 environmental site assessment has already been conducted at the park and no contamination was found. Digital and fiber optic is already in place, making the park ready for business. “There are so many exciting things happening in Jonesville,” says City Manager Jeff Gray. “We have the conversion of a historic factory in our Downtown for new housing, and the expansion of new business in our Industrial Park. We boast the largest manufacturer in the County and an outstanding school system. It is a great time to come grow with us!”
Located on State Highway M-49, the City of Reading Industrial Park is just 15 minutes from Ohio and Indiana and a short drive from Interstate 80-90, Interstate 69, and Interstate 94. Tenants also have easy access to rail travel. Indiana Northeastern Rail runs a spur through the park, and plans to add an additional spur, connecting the site with the Norfolk Southern Railroad. The park is within 200 miles of Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, South Bend, Gary, Indianapolis, Chicago, and the Ohio – Kentucky Line.
Located at the intersection of State Highways M-49 and M-99, and centered between M-60, U.S. 12 and I-69, Litchfield Industrial Park provides easy access to markets. The park already supports 2,200 employees and 15 companies, including multinationals Hi-Lex Controls, Metaldyne and Tenneco. A new 74-acre parcel has just been purchased that will allow for future development and park expansion. A successful Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA) that operates within the city of Litchfield promotes economic development throughout the Industrial Park area. “Litchfield is one of Michigan’s best kept secrets. Highly skilled labor workforce with a great work ethic, business friendly local government and low cost of conducting business, allow manufacturing companies to be very successful and profitable.”
Businesses moving into these industrial parks – or any part of Hillsdale County – will find plenty of support from the Hillsdale County Economic Development Partnership and the community at large. “Having Partnership in our name is very intentional,” Ms. Smith explains. “To achieve success it is imperative that we work hand in hand with our partners throughout Hillsdale County and beyond. On any given day we are engaged with our Educational Providers and South Central Michigan Works, which is our workforce development system that provides assistance in attraction projects and training opportunities for employers and job seekers. We work in partnership with municipalities of all sizes, our utility companies, and local employers, focusing mainly on the industrial and manufacturing sector but also including our non-profit, retail and commercial sectors.” The EDP is also a partner with the Greater Ann Arbor Region (GAAR) whose partners include the counties of Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe and Washtenaw.
Continually increasing the skill-sets of our workforce is a priority in Hillsdale County. The Krohn Center features a welding center that also includes an area for the classroom training that accompanies the hands-on learning. The Litchfield Regional Training Center is a new facility furnished to provide business and industrial training. Wireless technology will allow for online and distance learning as well as conference capabilities for international companies to have virtual meetings with clients throughout U.S. or worldwide.
With five private schools, 10 public schools and charter schools, and two colleges located within its borders, Hillsdale County offers plenty of educational opportunities. “People take education very seriously here,” Ms. Smith remarks.
Known for its academic rigor, Hillsdale College is renowned throughout the United States and beyond. The college enjoys outstanding national rankings, earning nods from U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger, Forbes, Princeton Review, and Colleges of Distinction. “A liberal education at Hillsdale College entails the study of things inherently worthwhile – things good, true, and beautiful,” Ms. Smith reports. “As stated in the College Honor Code, this study ‘develops the minds and improves the hearts’ of students, through which they rise to the challenge of self-government in a free republic. Students refine their intelligence, furnish their understanding, and acquire the abilities and wisdom necessary to lead full, humane lives.”
Jackson College, the local community college, is located across the Jackson County line, but it operates the Clyde E. LeTarte Center – Hillsdale in Hillsdale County. The center offers a variety of courses, including traditional academic transfer classes and classes in accounting, allied health, business, criminal justice, graphic design, nursing and more.
Hillsdale County residents enjoy a range of cultural opportunities. Located on the Hillsdale College Campus, the Daughtrey Gallery (Sage Center for the Arts) is open to the public. The Sauk Theatre in Jonesville provides live performances ranging from the classics to new Broadway hits. Founded by a group of 13 artists who banded together to open an art gallery, gift shop, and learning center, Gallery 49 offers music performances and art classes in several mediums as well as presenting the works of various artists. Open for private tours year round, the Grosvenor House Historical Museum is a 32 room Victorian Italianate home designed by the same architect who designed the Michigan State capitol building.
Hillsdale County residents have easy access to a variety of outdoor recreation, including camping, fishing boating, golfing, target shooting, hunting, hiking, and cycling. In addition, the county regularly hosts outdoor events. “We have a tremendous amount of festivals.” From the Camden Farmers Day Festival to Litchfield Sweet Corn Days, many of these events celebrate the community’s agricultural roots.
Blessed with a healthy economy and an old fashioned commitment to community, Hillsdale County is one in a million. “I’ve been in every state in the union and this is one of the most unique places you are going to come across,” Ms. Smith feels. Like many other newcomers, she was hooked after her first visit. “I have lived in many different communities and this is by far the most welcoming. I could live anywhere in the country [but] I wanted to be a part of this community. It really is America at its finest.” Visit www.hillsdaleedp.org to find out more!