The Region’s First Scorecard Grades Are In

The notes are there. A year after the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation (GTRCF) unveiled a “Scorecard” project designed to measure the region’s progress on more than a dozen goals, the organization officially released the results of the very first Regional Scorecard. The results? Northern Michigan has made impressive strides in improving the environment and post-secondary education, has lagged behind in community and working family mobility, and is still trying to move the needle on issues such as housing and young people’s mental health.

For GTCRF President and CEO Dave Mengebier, the scorecard is just a beginning. Mengebier and GTCRF worked last year to create the Community Development Coalition of Northwest Michigan, which in turn created the scorecard. The coalition brings together “over 30 cross-industry partners” from across the region, including private companies (Hagerty, Rare Bird Brewpub), educational institutions (Northwestern Michigan College, Interlochen Center for the Arts), government units (the City of Traverse City, Grand Traverse County), non-profit organizations (The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, Housing North), utility companies (Traverse City Light and Power, Consumers Energy) and business development actors (Traverse Connect, 20Fathoms). The goal, Mengebier says, was to begin dismantling the silos that kept these organizations and others isolated from one another.

“Although there are many examples of people working together in our region, the three sectors – nonprofits, government and business – often fail to communicate or coordinate,” he explains. “One of the main motivations for this coalition and the scorecard was to try to bring these three sectors together. We had these longstanding problems that our region is facing – housing, access to quality childcare, school readiness, general problems like infrastructure and transport – and they just weren’t solved. We asked ourselves: ‘Why is that so?’ And I think the reason for this is that the decision-making powers are really decentralized here. “

So the scorecard was intended almost as a means to an end: a mechanism to bring together key public, private, and nonprofit community actors; to identify a common set of goals for these players; and to promote cooperation for the “overall improvement of our region”. In fact, according to Mengebier, the publication of the first results is not even the biggest milestone in the coalition’s 365 days.

“When I think back to the first full year, I really notice that the coalition actually works as a coalition,” Mengebier told The Ticker. “We weighed a few important issues, issues like the Great Start Readiness Program; like the mill for early childhood education in the Leelanau district; such as the housing and childcare legislation pending in the Michigan Legislature. One of the nonprofits here has received a large grant, the Sleeping Bear Gateways Council. So these are not far-reaching changes that are planned in the scorecard, but they are small wins that are slowly gaining momentum. “

When the coalition created the scorecard, it identified 13 key local goals that it wanted to pursue across three main categories: economy, society and the environment. The coalition then set basic benchmarks and measurable goals against which it could annually assess progress towards each of those goals. The idea was to review the priorities every year and give each point a grade – “Better”, “No change” or “Worse” – based on comparisons with the baseline and the end goal.

Overall, three of the 13 goals identified on the 2021 scorecard showed positive progress, a further three tended to be worse compared to the previous year, and the remaining seven showed no significant changes.

“We have seen some setbacks in some of our goals,” admits Mengebier. “We’re losing working families here. That’s a problem. Our wages in northwest Lower Michigan are lower than the Michigan average, but our housing costs are higher, so math just doesn’t fit many working families. We have also seen a decrease in the use of public transport, but I would mainly associate that with the pandemic. “

The results were more positive elsewhere. For example, in the environmental section of the scorecard, there were two objectives – “Protecting and maintaining open spaces and arable land” and “Improving regional water quality resources” – where the region made positive progress towards its objectives. In the former, the coalition hopes to have 1,300 new hectares of local land protected by 2023, which would require 433 new hectares to be protected annually. This year the region more than doubled that goal with 1,048 hectares of protected land.

In terms of water quality, the overall goal of the scorecard is to install 10 new “major green infrastructure projects” locally by 2030. Such infrastructure helps capture and filter surface water during major storms, preventing runoffs that often hit the bay or otherwise contaminate local waters. The scorecard calls for a new project every year; According to Christine Crissman, Executive Director of the Watershed Center, the region far exceeds that goal.

According to Crissman, two major green infrastructure projects have been completed in the area since early 2020: a multi-year attempt to install an organic well near 14th Street to slow rainwater and keep sediment and runoff out of Kids Creek; and the installation of a number of rain gardens throughout Elk Rapids village.

Crissman notes that there are several other similar projects in the works – including more work at Elk Rapids, culvert redesigns near Kids Creek, and a revision of the parking lot drainage system at Meijer on US-31 – that put the region at risk could be even further ahead of his scorecard pie pace.

While Mengebier sees the potentially unfriendly interpretation of this year’s scorecard – that it shows strong progress in less than a quarter of the priority areas – he hopes the scores can be useful to the community, even if they are not cheap.

“The economic, social and ecological goals that we pursue on the scorecard are big topics that will fluctuate,” says Mengebier. “Sometimes we make progress; sometimes we won’t. One of the things we always said when I was at Consumers Energy and we got those scorecards was that we got to be in the red. We may not have a good score, but that tells us that we either need to do something differently or do more of what we are already doing to get that score from red to yellow to green. “

An interactive version of the scorecard can be viewed here.

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