Big City Amenities with a Small Town Feel

Bay Future
Written by Samita Sarkar

Bay County, Michigan, is a place where its citizens and businesses value the strength of family, knowing your neighbors, and putting in an honest day’s work. You can find world-class health care and educational facilities, recreational resources, and cultural attractions within this waterfront community.
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Located in the Great Lakes Bay Region, positioned along the shores of the Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron, just 90 minutes north of Detroit, Bay County (pop. 107,000) boasts a strategic location along Interstate 75. Easy accessibility to a number of major cities nearby such as Cleveland, Toronto, and Chicago makes travel and commerce convenient as well. Additionally, the Saginaw River, a navigable waterway for shipping and one of Michigan’s largest commercial ports, runs through the heart of the county.

Bay County is a pro-business community and Bay Future, Inc., along with its partners, provides economic development services and workforce training for the residents and businesses of the county.

Bay Future, Inc. was founded in 2004 and is charged with helping retain and grow existing businesses, as well as working to position the county to successfully market and attract new employers.

We first featured Bay Future, Inc. in 2015, and much has changed since then. To continue its successful economic development efforts, Bay Future, Inc. and key community leaders developed a three-year Strategic Action Plan launched in 2016 with “The Future Is Now” capital campaign. During the first two years of the campaign, Bay Future, Inc. assisted companies in creating 597 new jobs, retaining 103 jobs and securing over $391 million in new capital investment. With 2018 already off to a solid start, these results will put the organization ahead of its goals for the three-year campaign schedule.

These efforts are being recognized not only locally but also on a national level. The Bay City metropolitan area tied for 9th in Site Selection Magazine’s Top 10 Metro Areas: Tier Three New and Expanded Facilities in 2016 (Metros with population less than 200,000). The rankings are part of the overall Governor’s Cup Awards in which the State of Michigan as a whole ranked 10th. The recognition is based on new corporate facility projects of significant impact.

“We’re proud and excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last two years,” said President & CEO, Trevor M. Keyes. “The capital campaign allowed us to gain additional support from community stakeholders by outlining specific goals and measurements through the strategic plan—which we have been able to attain.” Keyes, who is Bay County born, started with the organization in 2011 and has served as President & CEO since April of 2017.

“This gives us a lot of momentum going into 2018, where I know we can continue to have a positive impact on the community by assisting with job creation and business expansion and retention in Bay County,” he said.

For someone who has never been to Bay County, you can’t miss the Saginaw River—the largest river in the state—which bisects the heart of Bay City. Travel between the east and west sides of the city is made possible by four modern bascule-type drawbridges, which allow large ships and recreational sailboats to travel easily down the river, a part of one of the largest watersheds in the state of Michigan.

The river has led Bay City to be awarded “Port of the Year” by Tall Ships America more than any other community in all of North America. The Tall Ships Celebration is a series of tall ships races and maritime port festivals, bringing over 100,000 visitors to Bay City every three years.

“Our natural assets and resources make Bay County a truly idyllic place to live. It’s Pure Michigan and a part of what makes Bay County great. Couple that with the year-round festivals and events that are held in the region and you have a culturally affluent community. Big city types of amenities with a small town feel, that’s us,” Keyes said.

Indeed, the area boasts more than 3,200 acres of natural terrain, over 100 parks, 20 plus miles of trails, seven public and private golf courses, and recreational opportunities on the Saginaw River, Kawkawlin River, and Saginaw Bay. Bay County is also consistently ranked as one of the most affordable communities in the U.S. and has recently been recognized by both Forbes and Realtor.com. Forbes listed Bay City as the number five most affordable place to live in the U.S. Realtor.com listed Bay City as America’s fourth most affordable metros for housing, a study that was done on the country’s largest 500 metros.

“One of the great things Bay County has going is the diverse group of industry clusters, from automotive and manufacturing to agribusiness,” Keyes shared. Bay County is a traditional blue-collar community with deep roots in manufacturing and agribusiness. “We’ve taken strategic steps by collaborating with regional partners and our local companies in order to focus in on these industries and prepare properties in order to attract new companies,” he continued.

Michigan Sugar Company is a prime example of the agribusiness in Bay County and the surrounding Great Lakes Bay Region. The third largest beet sugar processor in the United States, it is a grower-owned and operated cooperative that produces about 1 billion pounds of sugar annually, and is one of the county’s largest employers. Michigan Sugar has over a century of history in the community and produces well-known consumer brands such as Big Chief and Pioneer Sugar. In 2016, the company moved its corporate offices to Uptown Bay City, the city’s new waterfront development of office space, retail, restaurants, and housing, reinforcing Michigan Sugar’s commitment to the community.

As Bay County’s top employer, with 2,200 employees, McLaren Bay Region provides not only the opportunity for career growth to community residents but also the opportunity to access world-class health care. McLaren Bay Region offers a full continuum of health services for Northeast Michigan. A part of Michigan’s largest health network of 13 hospitals, McLaren Bay Region provides service to nearly a half million people. Its top services include cardiology, orthopedics, neuroscience, oncology, women’s health, and behavioral health. They also operate a long-term acute care hospital in Bay City to meet the needs of medically complex patients requiring an extended recovery. Along with Michigan Sugar, McLaren Bay Region also invested in the Uptown Bay City development in 2016 with a 70,000 square foot, three-story medical office building which houses a variety of outpatient services. This increased the services it was able to offer to community residents.

Consumers Energy is another organization which continues to invest in Bay County as the fourth largest combination utility in the U.S., providing natural gas and electricity for Michigan residents. The company spent more than $58 million at its Karn Generating Complex in 2016 on boiler, turbine, and environmental projects. The plant began generating electricity in 1940 and today employs approximately 370 people and generates enough power to meet the electric needs of more than 1.3 million people. Consumers Energy has pledged to spend $1 billion dollars with Michigan businesses through a program called Pure Michigan Business Connect, a free service that brings small to medium-sized Michigan businesses together with local, national and global companies for supply chain sourcing opportunities, and Bay County is experiencing this impact.

The Dow Chemical Company, largest employer in the Great Lakes Bay Region, reaffirmed their commitment to the Great Lakes Bay Region and to Bay County with their 2017 announcement of a $100 million Innovation Center at the Heritage Dow Corning Campus. When completed, the facility will house more than 200 scientists and engineers who will focus research and development activities on advancing solutions for home and personal care products; broadening Dow’s energy-saving building technologies; enhancing materials for critical infrastructure; and driving closer partnerships with automakers as they further accelerate efforts to light-weight automobiles and develop hybrid, electric and autonomous transportation solutions. As one of America’s largest corporations, Dow has called the Great Lakes Bay Region home since it was founded over one hundred years ago.

“Businesses have had the opportunity to be successful in Bay County because of the pro-business climate that has been fostered through our local, regional and state partners,” Keyes told Business in Focus. “Bay County has the ability to offer investors and entrepreneurs a variety of incentives including the Industrial Facilities Tax exemption, which allows eligible manufacturers to receive a 50 percent tax abatement on their investment. This abatement ultimately encourages manufacturers to build, expand, and renovate continuously, and they do.”

The city also utilizes an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act which provides a tax incentive to encourage the redevelopment of obsolete buildings that are contaminated, blighted or functionally obsolete. The goal is to rehabilitate older buildings into vibrant commercial and mixed-use projects. The results can be seen throughout Bay City’s Historic Downtown.

Bay County serves as an ideal and strategic location with access to major highways, rail, and water. In 2016 the community was recognized as one of the top 10 “logistics leaders” by Business Facilities, an economic development trade publication. Not to mention, Bay County and the State of Michigan are geographically located outside of frequently occurring natural disaster areas, which limits the risk for business.

Bay County and the surrounding region are home to colleges and universities that not only educate the future workforce but train them and work cooperatively with business, as well. The region has physical locations for three colleges and five universities, and Bay Future, Inc. works closely with these institutions for workforce training. The organization also partners with Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works!, which is one of 16 Michigan Works! agencies across the state responsible for assisting employers in finding and retaining qualified employees and assuring the labor force meets the needs of employers. Michigan Works! is the first unified workforce development system in the country and is an instrumental partner for developing Michigan’s economic future.

“There are exciting projects and initiatives we’re working on and we hope see come to fruition in 2018. As we finalize the last year of the strategic plan, the impact on Bay County is tangible. People are really excited about what is happening here and we couldn’t agree more,” Keyes concluded.

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