Growing Business. Building Community.

CDFI Certification a Game-Changer for Northern Michigan

By Laura Galbraith

Process is something that doesn’t make headlines or grab much attention. But taking the time and making the effort to do something right almost always pays dividends in the end.

Venture North Funding & Development just completed the important process of becoming certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Like many certification procedures, it involved a lot of hard work by Venture North staff – hours of completing forms, compiling and submitting financial data, and follow-up calls with federal personnel. We’re grateful for critical Congressional support from the offices of U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Congressmen Jack Bergman and John Moolenaar.

So the process is complete. But what does it mean for Venture North and the residents and businesses within the 10-county region it serves? Fortunately, it’s quite significant and the benefits will become evident in the very near future. Becoming a CDFI will allow Venture North to:

• Leverage our existing Venture North funds and attract more public and private investment to Northwest Michigan.

CDFI status provides for Venture North’s involvement in distributing Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funds from regional banks and financial institutions. These are important resources that have been utilized for economic development and community projects across the country, but have been largely underutilized in our regions. Being a CDFI, which requires annual recertification, also allows Venture North to create partnerships with non-profit organizations seeking social impact. It also qualifies Venture North to participate in more federal economic development programs and bring existing federal dollars into our region – critical funding that Northwest Michigan has often missed out on because it didn’t have the tools for implementation.

• Encourage more investment and bring more resources to rural, low- to-moderate income areas in Venture North’s 10-county service area.
• Increase job creation and business/personal incomes in the region.

Venture North’s CDFI certification will also raise the profile and bolster its professional reputation as an economic and community development engine for Northwest Michigan. As one of just a handful of CDFIs in Michigan, it will allow for partnerships and additional interest from community and economic development organizations and financial institutions across Michigan and the U.S.

CDFIs are designed to specifically target economic development efforts in areas with higher concentrations of low to moderate-income residents. Northern Michigan has experienced plenty of healthy economic growth in recent years – places like downtown Traverse City, Petoskey and Charlevoix, and affluent residential areas experiencing surging property values. But that prosperity is concentrated and uneven. For Northern Michigan to continue to grow and thrive, it needs to bolster job opportunities, income levels and local tax base throughout the region – not just in the pricey commercial corridors and hot residential pockets. Venture North will continue to support these areas, while also focusing on rural, underserved, lower-income communities.

To back up a bit, Venture North was created two-and-a-half years ago as part of the reorganization of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce under the umbrella of TraverseCONNECT, a regional economic development agency. It’s taken time and effort to build momentum, and we’re appreciative of our support from various partners including Fifth Third Bank, DTE Energy, Hagerty, Consumers Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and others. Venture North recently surpassed the $4 million business lending mark to more than 70 businesses across the region. Those businesses have purchased assets, added nearly 300 new employees, and bolstered their customer bases and service offerings.

But CDFI certification is a true game-changer both for Venture North and our region. It opens numerous doors to major-scale resources and partnerships not previously available to Northwest Michigan. Some of those opportunities will be unveiled very soon.

The end of the process represents the launch of an even brighter future for Venture North and the businesses and communities it serves. Tedious and time consuming it was – but the positive regional impact will be more than worth it for many years to come.

Laura Galbraith is Executive Director of Venture North Funding & Development. Contact her at laura@venturenorthfunding.org