CEDAM Blog

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A Review of Paul Ryan’s ‘A Better Way’ Plan: Part 2

Written by Sarah Torrico, Policy Intern

On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans unveiled an agenda entitled “A Better Way”, that Ryan says demonstrates what Republicans hope to achieve with the election wins of November. In the portion entitled “A Better Way to Fix Health Care”, the proposal details proposed changes to healthcare.

Healthcare in “A Better Way”

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“The fundamentals of how the system would operate calls for large changes in healthcare.”

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doctor-563428_1920Set to go into effect in 2020 if passed, the “Better Way” plan would replace Obamacare entirely. The package maintains employer-based program options while those who do not have insurance from an employer, Medicare or Medicaid would receive refundable tax credits that can be used to purchase plans in the individual market. If a recipient of credits chooses a plan that is less expensive than the credit amount, the difference would funnel into an account similar to a Health Saving Account (HSA) which could be used towards paying out-pocket costs and future medical expenses.

The fundamentals of how the system would operate calls for large changes to healthcare. The Medicaid program would become block-grant funded, meaning that individual states would be responsible for management rather than remaining a centrally-run federal system. Those who are covered under Medicare would be able to choose from private plans alongside traditional Medicare options beginning in 2024. Tax credits would be flat across the board and would not adjust overtime to inflation. However, Ryan has kept the component that allows people 26 years and younger to stay covered under their parents insurance.

medicine-24399_1280The proposal states explicitly that patients with pre-existing conditions would not be turned away based on their health statuses. It also states that Medicare premium support payments would allocate more to those with conditions that have worsened. Low-income seniors would also receive extra assistance in covering out-pocket payments, which would be subsidized by higher-income seniors paying higher premiums.

Check back soon for our next post which will look at proposed changes to the tax code and financial access. You can find the entire “A Better Way” agenda here.

If you have a topic or idea that you think could make a great CEDAM blog post, please contact Kaylee Kellogg at kellogg@cedam.info.

Expect EITC Delays in 2017

Written by Ross Yednock, Program Director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition (MEIC)

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“Everyone can begin filing their taxes as soon as tax season begins; however, due to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act passed in December of 2015, the IRS must hold all refunds with either a EITC or ACTC claim until February 15, 2017.”
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If you, or your clients, receive either the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), there is an important change with both of these credits that begins next year. Starting in January 2017, the IRS will hold any tax refund with the EITC and/or ACTC until February 15. This means that for the many people planning to use their tax refund to help caution holiday expenses, pay essential bills or build savings, they may have to wait longer than in the past. To learn more about this delay, download this flyer for more information on the EITC and/or ACTC delay.

Everyone can begin filing their taxes as soon as tax season begins; however, due to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act passed in December of 2015, the IRS must hold all refunds with either a EITC or ACTC claim until February 15, 2017.

The rationale for this is to prevent fraud. The reality is that some taxpayers may be caught off-guard or unprepared, especially if they are have already planned on using their tax refund for a specific or timely purpose like fixing their car, past rent or security deposit on a new apartment, getting caught up on bills or even the down payment on a new home. It does not matter if the taxpayer does their own taxes, pays a preparer or goes to a free site like those found on MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org; if the taxpayer is claiming the EITC and/or ACTC, they will have to wait until February 15 to receive their returns.

dollar-499481_1920This is why I would argue that if you, or your clients, do not use a free tax site, now is the time to change. In addition to saving money on tax preparation fees, there will be no hard-sell for any high-cost advance-refund check and you can be sure that the person who prepares your taxes is competent and certified by the IRS. In Michigan, there are no rules or regulations for paid tax preparation. Anyone can charge to prepare taxes without passing any competency or ethics test. All IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE or AARP Tax Aide sites) require volunteer tax preparers to be certified by the IRS in both tax law and ethics. In other words, it really doesn’t pay to go to paid tax preparer if you are able to get your taxes done for free!

In order to make sure you receive your refund as quickly as possible, you will want to make sure you have all the documents and statements you need to verify your income and deductions for which you are eligible before you go to any tax preparer. Once you have all the necessary documents, file your taxes. Waiting to file will only delay your refund. Finally, you may see advertisements or offers for loans or advances to access your refund faster. Be careful. Read the terms of any type of “refund advance” before accepting it and, if you feel you are being pushed into taking one out, take all your original documents to a free tax site. Remember, no one can get your refund to you any faster than anyone else.

You can learn more about the delay on the Internal Revenue Service’s website.

To find a free tax site location, dial 2-1-1 or go to the MEIC’s taxpayer website. The list of sites will be posted and update beginning in January.

For more tips on preparing for the refund delay, check out this Consumer Financial Protection Bureau blog.

If you have a topic or idea that you think could make a great CEDAM blog post, please contact Kaylee Kellogg at kellogg@cedam.info.

4 Great Tips for Nonprofit Social Media Pages

Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

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“[…] thinking about social media from a professional aspect can shift what or how you may want certain postings to look and feel. You may also want to find ways to stay relevant or get shares to spread the word.”
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In today’s world, using a variety of social media sites is important to maintain a brand and to help people connect with your nonprofit. Whether you’re just starting out on using social media or if you’re a social media professional, thinking about social media from a professional aspect can shift what or how you may want certain postings to look or feel. You may also want to find ways to stay relevant or get shares to spread the word. Here are a few tips about using social media for nonprofits that can help anyone get into the right state of mind.

Be Social

Social media is called that for a reason – it calls for people to connect. While usually people tend to associate social media interaction with friends, family or coworkers, the social aspect can also be for business pages! Ask your followers to share experiences, have them vote on an aspect of your sites and give them a chance to express their ideas. You’ll be able to learn more about your followers and see what they’d like to see more of!

Share

Another important aspect of social media is sharing. This aspect helps others to see posts that people like or are relevant to their own friends. Nonprofits can benefit by doing the same! Whether they are a partner through your nonprofit or simply sharing in your mission, share from other nonprofits as well. Other nonprofits may share relevant posts of yours in return, as well as reaching people that may have interest in your work!

Be Useful

Social media can have many different uses – for fun, reaching out to old friends or a variety of others. When talking about a nonprofit, though, you want to make postings that are useful to your followers. Find a way to create posts that are useful and driven toward pushing your mission. This doesn’t mean posts can’t be fun or interesting though – simply try to find a way to blend between entertaining and something people can take away after reading.

Help People Visualizeblur-1867758_1920

Humans are highly visual creatures. Seeing how something is affecting others or how something works can make a huge difference in understanding it. This can be especially useful for nonprofits, as we often cover a broad spectrum of issues or missions. Use photos and videos, and use them often. Get testimonials from people you’ve worked with or simply take video during times you are actively doing your work. Helping people visualize what you’re doing can aid them in having a better grasp of your mission and can make them more understanding in the work you’re trying to do.

There are many ways of configuring your nonprofit social media pages in order to best reach an audience, and these were simply a few that will help you get started. Click here to see a post on even more ways to use nonprofit social media effectively.

If you have a topic or idea that you think could make a great CEDAM blog post, please contact Kaylee Kellogg at kellogg@cedam.info.

A Review of Paul Ryan’s ‘A Better Way’ Plan: Part 1

Written by Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist

This is part 1 of a 3 part series.

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“The policy principles lay out how the House aims to tackle a wide rage of poverty-related issues, including welfare programs, education, food access, retirement services and access to banking and credit.”

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us-capitol-1273914_1280On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans unveiled their new anti-poverty agenda (which can be found here). The document is the first piece of a larger agenda entitled “A Better Way”, that Ryan says demonstrates what Republicans hope to achieve with the election wins of three weeks ago.  The policy principles lay out how the House aims to tackle a wide range of poverty-related issues, including welfare programs, education, food access, retirement services and access to banking and credit.

The agenda aims to ensure that any work-eligible recipients of welfare benefits under programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) find or prepare for work. This would include reforms that expand work requirements to include housing benefits, like federal rental assistance under the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The agenda would also give states the freedom to experiment with their unemployment insurance programs, with the intent of reforming the system and moving more unemployed workers toward employment in a quicker fashion.

Finances, Children and Education

 

dollar-941246_1920Additionally, the plan calls for further accountability through a social impact financing program. In this program, the government determines a desired social outcome, and an intermediary identifies a service provider, arranges for private investors to fund the services and monitors progress. If the agreed-upon outcome is achieved, the government reimburses the intermediary (who pays investors) for his or her expenses, plus a return based on the program’s success. If the outcome is not achieved, the government does not pay.

On the topic of early childhood and primary education, the agenda seeks to improve early childhood development programs by facilitating collaboration and coordination among existing programs, eliminating those programs deemed duplicative, and expand school choice and support of charter schools. It also calls for improvements to career and technical education.

The plan calls for changes to the higher education system  including enhancing the timing and content of financial aid counselling , modernizing the Pell Grant system, streamlining financial aid programs, repealing unnecessary data reporting requirements and allowing institutions to deliver higher education in more creative, cost-cutting ways.

Nutrition, Retirement and Credit

Nutrition for students and working families is also addressed. Recommendations for these programs include seeking out better ways to run school nutrition programs, increased flexibility to state and local entities and empowering states to streamline administration and simplify operations.

The plan includes building retirement security through the private retirement system. The policy recommendations for this include preventing a taxpayer bailout of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), rejecting the Department of Labor regulations on financial advisors, and eliminating bureaucratic restrictions that prevent small businesses from banding together to offer retirement plans.

Finally, on the issue of access to banking and credit services, the plan proposes streamlining or eliminating “unnecessarily burdensome” regulations that the Dodd Frank Act placed on community banks and credit unions. It also condemns efforts by Washington to regulate short-term credit products and services, specifically calling out the restrictions placed on small-dollar lenders.

The rest of the “Better Way” agenda focuses on the issues of national security, the economy, constitutional liberties, health care and tax reform. In the coming weeks, we will be highlighting some of those topics. The entire agenda can be found here.

Membership Spotlight: AmeriCorps at Lakeshore Resource Network

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Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern; In Collaboration with Stevie Chilcote, VISTA Leader

In our newest additions to our Membership Spotlight series, CEDAM will be featuring organizations across the state where our AmeriCorps VISTA members are serving communities.

The Lakeshore Resource Network

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“The organization was designed by the community to help us all work together to better serve our local families in need.”

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On the coast of Lake Michigan sits the city of Ludington. While a beautiful city, those in the area face a number of challenges, with poverty and the working poor being a huge concern. It is also a rural area, and challenges come along with this as well, including transportation and consistent work. In all these areas, this is where the Lakeshore Resource Network (LRN) comes in to help.

2ea7e0_82af72c218f3400097e96b7637c22e11-gifThe LRN is not only important, but vital to community members. Board member Monica Schuyler says this is because “it is empowering the community. The organization was designed by the community to help us all work together to better serve our local families in need.” Within the network’s building, they house offices for the Lakeshore Food Club, Pennies from Heaven Foundation, the United Way of Mason County, MIWorks West Central, Staircase Youth Services, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and True North Community Services, along with work stations for a number of other organizations. It aims to be a one stop shop for any needs the community has. While this is certainly admirable, it is also a huge job. As Schuyler puts it, “No one person at our foundation or in the community could dedicate themselves full time to help develop and expand the LRN.”

AmeriCorps VISTA member Sarah McMahon Joins the Team

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“[…] it takes a special person to leave a career working over 60 hours a week in order to serve their community, but Sarah McMahon did just that.”

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sarahThat is, until they applied for an AmeriCorps VISTA member. As proposed by John F. Kennedy, VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) was founded in 1964 to combat poverty and has a strong commitment to capacity building for nonprofits. It sounds cliche, but AmeriCorps is a calling. There is a living stipend, but members are compensated with an educational award, practical experience and a nationwide support network. Regardless of the compensation, it takes a special person to leave a career working over 60 hours a week in order to serve their community, but Sarah McMahon did just that.

McMahon says “I joined AmeriCorps because I was looking for a career change. I wanted to be a change maker and I had an opportunity in my hometown to make a difference.” As an AmeriCorps VISTA member at LRN, McMahon has done various types of work, including “[putting] ideas into action, fine tuning policies and procedures and taking time to meet with [various community members].” McMahon is doing everything from picking out the refrigerators for the food pantry to writing grant applications for multimodal transportation in Ludington. Board member Schuyler continues by saying they are grateful to have her. “Sarah in particular came on board because she loved the idea of the LRN, and it is clear she is passionate about the work and wants to make a difference in the community.”

To hear more from McMahon about the Lakeshore Resource Network, click here. If you’re interested in learning more about AmeriCorps and the VISTA program, click here. We’d like to thank Monica Schuyler, Sarah McMahon and the Lakeshore Resource Network for their cooperation in writing this blog.

memberspotlight-smallMembership Spotlight are blogs highlighting the great work that our member organizations do within their communities. If you are a CEDAM member and would like to be featured, please contact Lisa Assenmacher at lisa@cedam.info.

6 Reasons Why Organizations Should Invest in Online Video

Written by Paul Schmidt, Production Manager at UnoDeuce Multimedia

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“If you plan to have a foothold in the social media space, then adding online video is the very next step and it should be part of your online persona.”

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computer-767781_1920In today’s world, a relative majority of the population has access to the Internet. Along with that comes the opportunity to interact with organizations, and gives organizations the opportunity to reach out and show what they are all about. One of the best ways to do this is through the use of online video. It’s probably a decision you should be making when thinking of any marketing plan. If you plan to have a foothold in the social media space, then adding online video is the very next step and it should be part of your online persona. Why? Well, here are a few reasons:

1.) You know your field

You are the expert in your field. You have control of your story and have to set yourself apart. What better way to do that than by showing what you can do?

2.) Online Video is Popular Among Nearly All Internet Users

More and more people are watching video online. A recent statistic showed 82% of Internet users watch online video. That is all users, not just teens and millennials.

3.) You’re in control of what you’re putting out

You control the distribution, content within, and length both of the video and availability of viewing.

4.) Online Video makes you easier to find

It increases your Google ranking with organic search. Videos entice people to spend more time on your site once they find it, and the amount of time the average user spends on your site is a part of Google’s rank algorithm, increasing your rank.

youtube-1614709_12805.) The most popular Online Video site, YouTube, is easy and free to use

YouTube, the second most used search engine in the world, links with all of your social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. and offers embed codes and links to paste to your website and e-mails. YouTube also keeps your video on their server, so you don’t have to worry about taking up your server space or bandwidth. On top of all this, it’s free!

6.) Online Video interacts with viewers in multiple ways

Video uses more than one of your senses, both sight and sound, that leads to a retention rate of over 65%.

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“[…] give them another reason to stay and keep coming back by showing off what you can do.”

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Those are just a few of the many reasons to add online video to your social media toolbox, and to have it play a major part in your overall marketing strategy. Living in a society that wants to choose what they watch and when they want to watch, it’s a must to go online. If you have built or are in the midst of building your audience, give them another reason to stay and keep coming back by showing off what you can do.

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linkedin_profile_2404_2Paul Schmidt has been a visual storyteller for as long as he can remember and decided to turn that into a career. He chose video as his medium and his award winning style has been seen nationally as well as praised locally. A self-proclaimed community proponent and pro-Michigan advocate, he owns and is production director for UnoDeuce Multimedia which is celebrating its 6th year in Lansing. Paul was just recently awarded the 2015 Entrepreneur Institute Micro-Entrepreneur of the Year.

AmeriCorps: Those Who are Willing to Serve

Written by Stevie Chilcote, VISTA Leader

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“I feel that these life changes that I am making would not be possible without AmeriCorps offering me this incredible opportunity.”

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AmeriCorpsAmeriCorps has always been bigger than one person. Since John F. Kennedy proposed a national service corps in 1963, over one million members have chosen to serve. Each member is unique and has a story to tell, but together our impact can be even greater. After serving with the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency during the foreclosure crisis, Apollo Schuch summed up his service: “I am so grateful to be able to be a part of such an amazing program that not only helps those living in the community around me but also in the organizations that assist those individuals.” Apollo’s service is powerful, but even more so when added to the other 30,000+ hours the Foreclosure Corps served providing over 4,500 people with assistance.

Serving through AmeriCorps can also bring the opportunity to bring a new twist to a community’s history. Tori Dillinger, who has a passion for historical preservation, put a whole new spin on it for Milan Main Street by spotlighting the haunted buildings in her community, which was, as she put it, “a really fun experience” that she was not expecting to get to do.

Finding Your Way

Sometimes your service can even push you to investigate a career you never considered. Mandy Barlow was the mother of two teenage boys when she taught financial literacy at a juvenile detention center for young women. She had no idea how to plan for the life they imagined for themselves. During her service, she started looking into ways to continue her own education so that she could help more youth make productive contributions in her community. “I feel that these life changes that I am making would not be possible without AmeriCorps offering me this incredible opportunity.”

Those who serve have the opportunity to grow and learn during their AmeriCorps experience in unexpected ways, but it creates a supportive network nationwide. Sarah McMahon ended up meeting a woman who served as a VISTA in one of the first programs in the 1960s, while explaining to a board of directors about her AmeriCorps service with the Lakeshore Resource Network. For her, it proved that we are “part of something bigger than [ourselves]” and “bigger than our organizations as well.” Sarah’s supervisor said that she has “allowed our organizational capacity to rapidly expand to allow us to take ideas into action.”

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“[AmeriCorps members] get things done for non-profits, communities and families that may never have been accomplished without someone willing to serve, and we love doing it!”

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More Than a Year of Service

An AmeriCorps member in training once asked me, “Why so many years of service?” As I looked back over two years of Peace Corps, two years of AmeriCorps State and the year of AmeriCorps VISTA in front of me, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t the gardens built, the energy conservation lessons or conference presentations. It was all the amazing people I have met over the years. The dedicated individuals who put their idealism to work in a way that makes a visible difference in their communities and touches the lives of millions. They get things done for non-profits, communities and families that may never have been accomplished without someone willing to serve, and we love doing it!

These members and the million others who came before have inspired me through four years of service and continues to push me every day to be the change and to better my community. AmeriCorps serves where there is need and fights poverty on every front. They teach environmental conservation, respond to disasters, support veterans, write grants, manage volunteers, preserve history, make history and create a future for communities nationwide. Why be average, when you can be AmeriCorps? Learn more about AmeriCorps and the VISTA program here.

AmeriCorps in Michigan

Michigan Cities Through the Eyes of NACEDA’s Executive Director

Written by Kaylee Kellogg, Communications Intern

michigan-23565_1280Michigan: a state that can display the growth and prominence of great times, as well as how to pull through and endure difficult circumstances. Certain cities continue to grow exponentially, while others are struggling to  draw citizens back in. Recently, the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) executive director, Frank Woodruff, used his visit to three prominent Michigan cities to create a blog series that he described as a “Goldilocks-themed tour of Michigan.”

Grand Rapids – Hot

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“As the second largest populated city in the state, Grand Rapids is hitting a peak in growth.”

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In Woodruff’s first post of the series, he was able to visit the bustling city of Grand Rapids. As the second largest populated city in the state, Grand Rapids is hitting a peak in growth. Due to this, though, the city is having to innovate how to invest in local attractions and housing. One of the ways they are doing so is to support Grand Rapid’s own businesses in creating these areas, rather than counting on outside businesses. This helps the city’s own workers get the jobs they need to continue to draw people in.

inner_city_christian_federationAs far as housing for such a large population, the city has the capacity for large growth – they just need to make sure many of the homes they are offering are up to par. This is where a number of CDC’s that double as real estate developers come in, such as Grand Rapids’ own Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF). These nonprofits acquire struggling areas of property and find groups or organizations that want to flip them into houses that hopeful homeowners would want to buy. While the strategy can be a hit-or-miss, it seems to be suiting Grand Rapids just find to fulfill the demand.

Read Frank Woodruff’s full Grand Rapids article here.

Flint – Cold

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“Houses were being abandoned in all areas due to the water crisis. It is a struggle the city shares, regardless of status.”

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Once a bustling city, Flint has taken the center stage of struggling cities in Michigan. Declines in manufacturing work and public revenue have taken their toll on the once prosperous city; then the water crisis hit, and added to the cities issues.

flint_water_tower275One story Woodruff began to tell was driving through different neighborhoods in Flint. Some that he encountered were as Flint has been displayed nationally since the water crisis started: downtrodden neighborhoods with unkempt homes, overgrown lawns and dirty surroundings. The only active businesses to be seen in these areas were “storefront churches, auto and payday lenders”. On the other hand, some neighborhoods seemed to be doing well. Homes were well kept and looked cozy, but nonetheless, homes were empty here as well. Houses were being abandoned in all areas due to the water crisis. It is a struggle the city shares, regardless of status.

Unfortunately, the city had few truly active CDC’s before the water crisis, but these groups are now being kicked into high gear to address Flint’s citizens. The Mott Foundation, an LISC office, has promised to contribute $100 million dollars to help in Flint’s recovery. Neighborhood foundations can expect money to be coming their way to help hire and train new staff to help the communities they serve. Although it may take some time, help is on the way for Flint, and hopefully this help will turn around the condition of the city.

Read Frank Woodruff’s full Flint article here.

Lansing – Just About Right

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“Lansing is a city with ‘innovative’ written all over it”

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michigan-1191024_1920When pondering on Lansing, the phrase “making it work” comes to mind. Lansing doesn’t have the size of other cities, nor does it have the demand for new housing. What Lansing has is the balance to use the space, size and resources they do have to make a great city.

Lansing is a city with “innovative” written all over it. The example that Woodruff brings up when discussing this point is Lansing’s Financial Empowerment Center. This service provides hands-on counseling to residents on a number of financial topics. While the service is powering along to help citizens, it is also not self-sustainable as of now. Only 1/3 of costs to run the center are paid through their own resources; the rest are generous donations. While this is great for now, Lansing is well aware they cannot run the office forever counting on philanthropy. They have plans to roll out the program statewide, with pilot operations in several key cities across Michigan. The same story can be told for CDC’s in Lansing, which are often highly multi-faceted in the work they’re involved in.

Along with the “making it work” mentality, Woodruff described Lansing as a place that is just “fun”. The city often has a variety of festivals, sporting events and places to visit that make both visitors and citizens enjoy their time there.

Read Frank Woodruff’s full Lansing article here.

 

Food Forward MI: Farm to Institution: A Supply Chain Opportunity (Part 2)

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This is part two of a two part series. To read part one, click here.

Regional economic partnership can build a local, healthy food supply chain

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“The challenge in expanding the local food systems is to match the cost and convenience of customary distributors.”

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cherries-1268235_1920Across Michigan through partnership support from philanthropic, health, academic, government, business and nonprofit organizations, consumer education initiatives and new market development is helping drive demand. Saginaw Mayor Dennis Browning says, “More people are getting interested in local healthy foods and farm-to-table.” He notes this has been a major part of the success of new restaurants downtown and on the city’s west side. Researching how local Saginaw institutions make such local food purchasing decisions, Dayne Walling, Manager of 21st Century Performance notes, “The challenge in expanding the local food system is to match the cost and convenience of customary distributors.”

While developing a cost-effective local regional food supply chain challenges communities across Michigan, some municipalities are capitalizing on this problem as means for development. In Saginaw, new SVRC Industries food hub is working with the non-profit Downtown Saginaw Farmers’ Market, quasi-governmental Downtown Development Authority and statewide business Cherry Capital Foods (CCF) on employment, logistics, marketing, storage, outreach and education. Through this partnership, CCF will assist with the business and trucking operations while SVRC employees help CCF expand their local food supply nodes from the Upper, Central and Southeast Michigan out to the Thumb. The Farmers’ Market will be housed on the first level of this new development and help attract foot traffic, beautify the riverfront and act as a vendor host for many area businesses. Joint community outreach and education activities as well as fun for all ages will be available.

chef-1245676_1920In Tuscola county, economic developers are partnering with Mid-Michigan Restaurant Consultants, Tuscola Food Hub, East Central Planning Commission, Eastern Michigan Council of Governments, the Caro Farmers Market and Incubator Kitchen as well as the Small Business Development Center to develop a pilot for improved community food access and economic well-being. With additional support from the Thumb Area Tourism Council, Intermediate School District and Cass City Village Council and Chamber, this collaborative body is developing a five year vision with goals of: increasing access to healthy foods grown by local farmers; employing local talent (with particular emphasis on logistics), and; kick-starting entrepreneurship by working across traditionally silo’d organizations. Supply and value chain creation lie at the crux of this new partnership’s success.

“We are striving to build the essential gateway to greater community food access by partnering with our school districts, community organizations, Michigan Works, small to medium sized food entrepreneurs and food producers! We are a food desert in one of the lushest regions in the United States, and the highest organic producing area in Michigan. We have an opportunity to keep our kids here through this employment opportunity as well as feed our community. We achieve this by becoming the nonprofit that oversees this food aggregation/distribution function and making it a community highlight. This is why we’ve created the Greater Thumb Agri-business Center.” Vicky Sherry, President Greater Thumb Agri-business Corporation, Communications Director, Tuscola County EDC.

Going mainstream by paving the way to community health

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“Across Michigan as communities have worked together to test such ideas, efforts are beginning to bear fruit.”

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For those community collaboratives desiring to build a sustainable partnership or entity that provides such a sense of place, avenues for business logistics and expansion, health and well-being: market assessment is the first step. Gauging regional business desire for locally sourced foods and producer capacity is possible with the help of resources such as Michigan State University Extension and local farm market masters to understand who is buying, what and how much from whom. Whether urban or rural, opportunity exists to further connect suppliers with purchasers and the general public through hosting inclusive events such as community workshops, roundtable dialogues or “Meet the Buyers” events.

farmers-local-market-1547315_1920As business must first vision and then scale their goals, so too must community. Taking a note from the pages of supply chain development – strategy that creates a horizontal process to guide the flow of product across enterprise–communities at a macro level may also create partnerships to lead process for cross-sector place-making strategy, food access and jobs creation. At the micro level, these partnerships can also build the foundation from which to staff, market and facilitate the aggregation and distribution of local food to consumers. Across Michigan as communities have worked together to test such ideas, efforts are beginning to bear fruit.  By facilitating access to healthy, locally made food products, we also facilitate reduction of our carbon footprint and spur economic and public health. In the long run it may just be the same supply chain that carries local to mainstream also paves the way for community development to well-being.

For more information about supply chain strategy as a community well-being tool, please contact Mary ZumBrunnen, founder of One-Community Consulting at mary.zumbrunnen@gmail.com or connect with her on Twitter @OneCommCon. For more information about healthy food access initiatives, please contact Jessica AcMoody, CEDAM senior policy specialist at acmoody@cedam.info.

We hoped you’ve enjoyed the Food Forward Michigan blog series. This is our final post in the series.

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Glasses2About the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.

Food Forward MI: Farm to Institution: A Supply Chain Opportunity – Part 1

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This is part one of a two-part series.

How does local go mainstream?

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“While some thought it was passing fancy, this movement is clearly not just for hipster foodies desiring an authentic experience.”

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farmers-1311017_1920“Growing Community,” “Know Your Farmer,” “Taste the Local Difference” and many other tag lines are helping build public awareness by highlighting opportunity to make a positive personal impact through buying locally grown and made food products. While some thought it was passing fancy, this movement is clearly not just for hipster foodies desiring an authentic experience. After more than a decade of data tracking, the results speak for themselves. Today, the USDA estimates that local food sales from farmers markets, food hubs, community-supported agriculture, farm stands and farm to school programs have more than doubled – growing from about $5 billion in sales in 2008 to $11.7 billion in 2014. This growth is in part due to an informed consumer base that actively researches and seeks certain products. Equally important, community support of increased access, such as that of non-profit collaboration, educational outreach and funding opportunity, have made it possible to expand clientele and experience.

The local food movement has typically implied literal physical movement to personally bring farmers and consumers together in direct sales transaction. Today, such inefficiency can prohibit Michigan business from expanding. In some ways this is an outlier in the Mitten’s otherwise growing agricultural industry. The supply and demand are documented, but connecting the two can be a challenge.  “Cultivate Michigan,” the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food SystemsFarm to Institution Network’s campaign to help organizations source 20% of their food from Michigan by 2020 has been working to track Michigan institution’s local buying habits throughout the state.  Across its 51 participating organizations, it is estimated that about 127,500 locally grown meals are served per day. For example, more than half of school food service member directors now report purchasing local foods – with more signing up every season – and nearly half of Michigan vegetable farmers indicate interest in selling produce to institutions.

Typically, the market economy would naturally help ramp this up….however, as small to mid-sized businesses attempt to scale, gaps in supply chain are prohibitive. Just think, how many eggs are daily necessary to feed one college cafeteria? How do those eggs get from many area farms to processing, storage and refrigeration into the chef’s hands? Getting “local” into everyone’s hands requires a supply chain to the mainstream.

Through the lens of a farmer…

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“Due to this, farmers must determine how volume, risk, when and where they sell impacts overall profit.”

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Often times the challenges of regional local food supply chain development affects the farmer more than consumers may realize. Produce will not wait to be harvested, talent shortages, transportation barriers, storage and a host of other challenges, including quality, freshness and appearance of product may be affected. Due to this, farmers must determine how volume, risk, when and where they sell impacts overall profit. St. John’s grower and CEO of the Learning Connection, Kristine Ranger, speaks to seasonality challenges: 

tuscany-428041_1280“The summer months are an extremely busy time period for growers and producers of all types. If vegetable growers sell at farmers markets, for example, these vendors most likely sell at several different locations each week. For many, the majority of their business income is generated from June through August revenues, so their main focus during that time is to sell, sell and sell some more!”

While small to mid-sized farmers are willing to expand, additional car time, staff time and day jobs typically hamper customer face time. Historically, those personal relationships have been critical to direct transactions. Today, in many cases, there is simply no return on additional production when it may rot on the limb with no guarantee of sale at the market. Yet consumer demand continues to rise…So who connects the dots providing necessary marketing, pick-up and delivery? It may just be that the non-profit sector can leverage strategies from supply chain development as a business crossover tool to kick start new community planning, placemaking and economic development.

For more information on Farm to Institution, please contact MSU Center for Regional Food Systems specialist, Colleen Matts at matts@msu.edu. For more information on local, healthy food access, please contact Jessica AcMoody, CEDAM senior policy specialist at acmoody@cedam.info.

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Glasses2About the author: Mary ZumBrunnen is the CEO of One-Community Consulting, a social enterprise connecting business, non-profit, academic and philanthropic organizations to empower vibrant community. She holds multiple degrees in agriculture and community development and is currently pursuing an MBA. Mary’s passion is fostering sustainable development through citizen engagement. Follow Mary on Twitter @Mary_ZumBrunnen. Learn more at one-communityconsulting.com.