HOLLY, Michigan – Suzanne Perreault, former director for Holly’s Downtown Development Authority, always thought a full-blown, professional market research survey was the next logical step for the village to take in luring prospective developers and businesses into the community. With an estimated price tag of $15,000, it never happened.
In September, the Holly Area Economic Development Task Force was born – a group of concerned area citizens from throughout the community, interested in identifying ways to help spur economic development not only in the village, but also in the township.
Charged with leading the group is Holly Township Trustee Janet Leslie, who over the course of just five months, has managed to enlist the help of resident Ryan Bladzik, Owner/Principal of Great Lakes Creative Marketing and Communications.
Seeing a real need in the community, last fall, Bladzik offered the services of his company at cost.
“The good news is that we’re not here to ask you for money, and there is no bad news because we just want to show you what we’ve done so far and also to ask for your support for an exciting project that we’re in the midst of working on right now,” Leslie told Holly Village Council members on Tuesday.
With the primary mission of developing a long-term vision for the Holly community, Leslie said the EDTF hopes learn what the community will look like over the next two decades.
“The 20 or so people that came to the initial meeting probably could have sat around and written beautiful vision for the community, but it wouldn’t have had any teeth because it would have been our opinions,” Leslie said. “We felt it was necessary to gain as much input from the community as possible, and also to have the support and endorsement of the councils, boards and commissions in the community.”
To date, the group has taken part in visioning exercises, conducted a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, and held two focus groups aimed in gaining qualitative input on what people think the community is all about, what direction they would like to see the community go in the future.
Bladzik said after attending a few EDTF meetings as a concerned resident, he began to realize that before any action could be taken by the group, more information was needed. “No business or organization would ‘shoot in the dark’ on figuring out which way to go and what to do without weighing all the different possibilities there are, without getting input, or without analyzing the situation,” he said.
On Jan. 16, Bladzik conducted two focus groups – one consisting of average residents from both the village and the township, and the other, a group consisting of community leaders and public officials.
“Some of the participants in the resident group were long term residents and others were newcomers,” Bladzik said. “Some were old, some were young – it was really a well-balanced group that gave their perspectives on a variety of things about the community – good and bad things, challenges, downfalls, perceptions and misperceptions.
“The second focus group was the people who are more involved in the community,” he said. “Village Council, Township Board, Holly Chamber of Commerce, business owners, developers, festival coordinators and school board members.”
After both focus group sessions, Bladzik compared and contrasted the data and feedback from the two groups, and discovered some very interesting similarities and differences.
“Everybody agrees that they like the small town America appeal that Holly offers,” he said. “They like the slower pace, the rural community – knowing who your neighbors are without the growth or busy atmosphere of a city.” Additionally, Bladzik said that there was a general consensus that community involvement and community spirit are somewhat low.
“The interesting thing is that each group defined the term, ‘community involvement’ differently,” he said. “The residents didn’t feel that they were either aware of or there were ample opportunities to get involved – whether it be activities to participate in or for their kids to participate in, whereas the leadership group really looked at it from a more practical or pragmatic point of view – that there aren’t enough volunteers for everything that we need to do.”
With the data collected from both groups, Bladzik developed a 37-question marketing survey with over 200 data points covering the categories of demographics and employment, consumer habits, dining habits, opinions and attitudes, lifestyle information, media and information, and activities and hobbies.
Bladzik said the EDTF would like to mail the survey out to 2,000 randomly selected households in the Holly Area School District with prepaid first class return envelopes. By including prepaid return envelopes, Bladzik says the group hopes to get at least 400 surveys sent back.
Leslie said the Holly Area Chamber of Commerce has offered the EDTF the use of a copier machine to keep printing costs at a minimum. Leslie said she and Bladzik attended Monday's Holly DDA Board of Directors meeting, asking members to consider contributing $1,700 toward postage costs for the surveys. Needing more time to think over the issue, the DDA tabled the issue until next month.
“Is the township going to pay for any of this, or is it all out of the DDA?” Councilwoman Pauline Kenner asked.
Out of consideration for budget concerns, Leslie said the EDTF opted to ask the DDA for the funds. “The DDA, we felt, stands to benefit the most,” she said.
On Wednesday, Holly Township Clerk Karin Winchester confirmed that Holly Township also contributes financially to the DDA, last year capturing a combined total of $22,877.42 in Tax Increment Financing Act funds for the DDA from the township itself, the township library and the township parks.
“What do you intend to do with this survey?” Councilwoman Reisa Hamilton asked. “I know you have wonderful intentions, but if we’re going to spend $1,700 on a survey, quite frankly, I feel like it’s still my money and I’d like to know that it’s going to come to some good use.”
Should the surveys go out, Leslie said the resulting data would be made available to the public. “It will be information that the DDA Director will have in hand to present to anybody considering locating a business to Holly, or will be information that all of our business owners can use to look for opportunities in growing their business,” she said.
“I feel the survey is a golden opportunity to get input from the grass root people here – the 10,000 residents – I know you’re only going for 2,000,” resident Larry Lilly said. “But I think this would benefit all of us because we’ve never had a survey here to get the input from people about what they really want, and it’s not going to cost much to get it.”
Hamilton made the motion to table the matter until the DDA has had the opportunity to remove the issue from the table and make a decision about the $1,700 request for funding.
The DDA Board of Directors is expected to discuss the matter at their upcoming March 8 meeting, and Village Council will revisit the issue when they convene on March 9.