SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — Justin Horvath, the president/CEO of Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership, continues to hold the highest certification available in his field.
He is among the 1,100-1,200 people in the world awarded the designation “certified economic developer” by the International Economic Development Council. Having met the demanding requirements for continuing education and service to his profession, Horvath has just been re-certified — for the third time in nine years — effective Jan. 1, 2020.
“This represents my commitment to educate myself on best practices (in economic development) that I can bring back and implement in my community,” Horvath said. “I don’t believe I can learn best practices by sitting in my office.”
He has traveled across the country attending conferences, networking and bringing the latest innovations back to Shiawassee County.
Examples include Horvath, as president of the Michigan Economic Developers Association, learning about Community Housing Network from his vice president and then steering the company toward purchasing Owosso Middle School and redeveloping the building into apartments. A few weeks ago, Owosso schools and the developer began negotiating a purchase agreement.
Also, a conference Horvath attended in October got him “revved up” about child care, the affordability of which is a local issue. What he learned at the conference prompted him to organize a focus group on child care about three weeks ago.
The session resulted in an idea to team up local companies to contribute financially to the opening of a child care facility for their employees, who would pay a reduced rate for services. The child care operation would be part of a benefits package, helping local companies recruit talent. The next step, Horvath said, is a feasibility study.
“We are trying to reduce barriers to employment,” Horvath said. “So many people in Shiawassee County haven’t participated in the economic recovery because of barriers, including child care.”
Another idea Horvath is investigating is starting a “concierge service” for prospective new local hires. For instance, if Memorial Healthcare was recruiting a physician, the hospital would sell the candidate on the job, while a team from SEDP would sell them on the community.
There are presently about 1,000 open positions in the county that can’t be filled easily, for lack of qualified people, he said. Among the barriers to filling them is insufficient housing.
“We have to be able to move more people here,” Horvath said. “Our schools need more housing and our local governments need it. It’s all about talent.”
Bryan Marks, an SEDP board member who has know Horvath for about a decade, said Shiawassee County is fortunate to have a mover and shaker like Horvath enhancing the community’s development.
“In my opinion, he’s the best economic developer we could ask for,” Marks said. “He’s full of energy, he’s a wealth of knowledge and he has the ability to bring together a package of financial institutions, business-to-business networking and grant applications.
“I don’t know anyone else who could deliver that service,” Marks continued. “And his commitment to our county is irreplaceable.”
Horvath, an Owosso native, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s degrees in economics and public policy from the University of Michigan. He joined SEDP on April 29, 2002.
The first step toward achieving the designation certified economic developer is to work in the field for five years. In about 2006-07, Horvath began taking classes in such subjects as the workforce, and how to retain existing businesses and attract new ones.
He was one of 48 people who sat for the economic developer exam in December 2010, and among the mere 16 people who passed.
Re-certification can be obtained every three years, assuming rigorous criteria are met. First, the economic developer must attend national IEDC events every year. Second, they have to give back by teaching or grading IEDC exams.
For the past three years, Horvath has taught basic economic development courses in Lansing, an experience which he said he has found “extremely rewarding.”
Third, to be re-certified the economic developer has to provide an additional service to the profession.
Horvath is wrapping up a term as president of the 500-member Michigan Economic Developers Association.
“Education is a lifelong process,” he said. “I’m going out, traveling the state and country, networking and learning best practices to implement here.”
Horvath, who started out with SEDP as an intern and worked his way up to the top position, has received many accolades for putting Shiawassee County, with its 70,000 residents, on the map.
He has won many honors along the way, including being named as a top economic developer in the U.S. and Canada by Development Counsellors International’s 40 Under 40 in 2017; and one of Consultant Connect’s Top 50 Economic Developers in North America in 2015.
In addition, Horvath has held such positions with the Michigan Economic Developers Association as board member, instructor and president; was named by that organization as Medalist of the Year in 2017; and received the Robert Seighart Award for Enthusiasm for the Economic Development Profession in 2019.
Consumers Energy named Horvath its Economic Development Champion in 2017.
The following year, he made the cover of Greater Lansing Business Monthly, was featured in the University of Michigan Stories of Our State and was appointed by former Gov. Rick Snyder to serve on the Michigan Rural Development Fund Board.
Locally, Horvath graduated from Leadership Shiawassee in 2005, took the dive in the Owosso Plunge for the Parks from 2016-18, won the title Mr. Owosso on behalf of Shiawassee Habitat for Humanity in 2019, served on the Owosso City Council from 2003-07, was fundraising chair for the Shiawassee United Way Industrial Division in 2011 and was a board member for the Shiawassee Family YMCA Board of Directors in 2019.