LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) — Understanding the unique challenges faced by people living and working in rural Michigan communities was the focus of a virtual roundtable Friday with Governor Gretchen Whitmer and leaders representing rural Michigan.
The group discussed the recent establishment of the rural development office. The new agency is part of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Leaders like Kim Shiner, mayor of Manistique, Michigan, spoke about what they are experiencing in their communities, from aging and declining populations to the lack of quality housing.
“If someone were to move here, we don’t have housing for them,” Shiner said.
But housing isn’t the only issue facing the small community, Shiner says it struggles to meet the mental health needs of its residents.
“We’ve had a therapist position for over six months now,” she said.
Governor Whitmer recently created the Office of Rural Development to help mayors like Minnow and others address rural economic development and other community revitalization needs.
“How do we chart a course that will be truly transformational and how do we ensure that rural communities are on board to drive this agenda,” the governor told the group.
Investment in rural Michigan through the Office of Rural Development comes from federal ARPA funds.
“We have these federal resources that have come into Michigan, so we’re not in a position to debate where we’re going to cut, we’re debating where are we going to make investments,” the governor said.
Gary McDowell is the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the new office of Rural Development will fall under his aegis.
He hopes the investments in rural Michigan will be long-lasting and sustainable.
“We created this office to ensure that it focuses only on the rural part of the state and the needs, aspirations and dreams of people in rural Michigan,” McDowell said.
The office will work with other state agencies to help meet these needs.