LAINGSBURG — The Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership’s annual meeting was originally slated to be held at Laingsburg’s new amphitheater in McClintock Park Wednesday, but inclement weather prompted a change in plans.

With raindrops falling minutes before the 2 p.m. kickoff, organizers relocated proceedings under the park’s pavilion. The quick transition, officials noted, mirrored the efforts of countless Shiawassee County businesses throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many of which found ways to innovate and survive amid ever-changing restrictions.

“We all know what happened, we don’t need to rehash that, but the resilience we’re certainly seeing here in Shiawassee County from our entrepreneurs has been incredible,” SEDP President/CEO Justin Horvath said in his opening remarks Wednesday. “Many, many companies are hiring.”

Although vaccination rates continue to slowly climb and local case numbers appear to be dropping, Horvath acknowledged there are still many businesses feeling the effects of the pandemic.

“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to help you but we also have our eye on the future,” Horvath said, referencing the SEDP’s new five-year strategic plan.

“We’re very honored and pleased to have your support, to have your partnership, to have your collaboration because economic development is not SEDP,” he continued. “SEDP is part of a team, it is truly a team sport, and all of you are involved in making Shiawassee County a better place to live, work and play.”

Crest Marine of Owosso Township was honored with the SEDP’s Project of the Year award, which recognizes a new or expanding business in Shiawassee County for its significant positive impact on the local economy.

The pontoon manufacturer purchased Maurell Products in 2010, and has since increased production, employees and most recently, added 25,000 square feet of warehouse space to accommodate its expanding operations.

Horvath described Crest as one of the county’s “great economic development success stories.”

“Over 10 years ago, (Crest) took a business that had been shut down and turned it into the amazing global company it is today,” Horvath said. “Since the company started their turnaround, they’ve increased employment to over 300 with plans to become the largest manufacturer in Shiawassee County.”

Award sponsor Consumers Energy presented Crest President Patrick May with certificates of recognition from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, U.S. Congressman John Moolenaar and State Rep. Ben Frederick. May said the SEDP played a key role in helping Crest form meaningful connections throughout the Shiawassee area.

“In 2010, I called up 34 people that were laid off and said, ‘Hey, do you want your job back?’ Today we’re on our way to (400 employees),” May said. “Thank you Justin for helping us along that path; it’s been very fun.”

The success of the Shiawassee SOARS meal program and farmers market delivery service Market Wagon, along with the consistent efforts of the Shiawassee County Health Department throughout the pandemic, was highlighted during a 10-minute video Wednesday.

The SEDP team — Horvath, Vice President Brent Jones and Program Coordinator Jody Roethele — jumped into action at the start of the pandemic, organizing daily conference calls as well as using email, social media and cellphones to get out vital information about financial resources.

County Health Director Larry Johnson said he was in contact with Horvath and the SEDP team from day one of the pandemic, a partnership that allowed health officials to easily disseminate the latest guidelines to area business leaders.

“When you have an economic development organization working so closely with a public health organization, that just doesn’t happen in other places. But it did happen here,” Johnson said in the video.

“We set up (vaccination) clinics at dozens of local businesses all over the county and we continue to do that today,” he continued. “The SEDP was integral in making that happen. They were a true partner with the health department.”

The Shiawassee Supporting Our Area Restaurants (SOARS) meal program fed people in need while also aiding area restaurants. Participating establishments received $10 per meal served.

The collaborative effort, financed through COVID-19 relief grants, was led by Shiawassee Family YMCA, United Way of Genesee County Serving Genesee and Shiawassee Counties, SEDP, the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Durand Area Chamber of Commerce.

Market Wagon, meanwhile, assisted area businesses in getting their food products in the hands of consumers throughout central Michigan, offering home delivery service throughout Shiawassee, Saginaw, Genesee, Clinton, Gratiot, Ingham and Eaton counties.

SEDP helped Market Wagon find its hub in Vernon Township and subsequently connected the online farmers market with numerous local food vendors to work with.

“The SEDP was influential in not only just giving you information for the grants that were out there and available but they kept providing links, they kept providing updates. I don’t know how many times my email would go off in a day,” said Melanie Pratt, owner of HQ Fun Bunker/Tiger Shark Cafe in Durand.

“(Market Wagon) helped our restaurant side tremendously. It was literally helping pay the electric and the lease payment every month while we were going through the unknown of what the pandemic was supposed to mean for our business,” Pratt added. “If it wasn’t for the SEDP reaching out and telling me what I could possibly qualify for, I don’t think I’d still be open right now.”

Despite success in addressing challenges throughout the pandemic, SEDP is continuing to look ahead, board president Bryan Marks informed audience members Wednesday.

Beginning in January, the SEDP immediately went to work on updating its five-year strategic plan, hosting roundtable events with local business and community leaders regarding their goals and needs in the coming years.

“With those roundtables, we realized that business development, workforce development and real estate development, with an emphasis on diversity, is what this county needs to move forward to be economically successful,” Marks said. “We came up with measurables and we have annual scorecards to make sure that we’re still on track.”

For more information on SEDP, visit sedpweb.org.

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