To start the new year, Gov. Whitmer signed an executive directive to establish a new office within MDARD.
The Office of Rural Development has been a long time coming, says MDARD director Gary McDowell. Much of the advocating came from groups in the UP and Northern Michigan.
“When the pandemic came, it put a spotlight on some of the issues in the rural part of the state that really needed to be addressed that hadn’t been addressed for a long time,” he says. “The first one that comes to mind is rural broadband. The governor said, ‘We’ve got to get working on this, so let’s see what we can do and put this office together.’ We can really make sure that the rural part of the state is not left behind.”
This office will be a permanent fixture within MDARD, no matter what party is in charge. Some of the office’s responsibilities will be on rural economic health and development, promotion of green energy development, and addressing population and demographic trends.
“I think it tells them this administration really cares about them—they really want us to be a partner,” says McDowell. “This is one step of being that partner to help the rural part of the state grow and thrive.”
So far, no one is heading up the office. McDowell says it will be a civil service position to take politics out of the equation.
“You have certain protections, you have job qualifications this person will have to meet, and it will be a full and open process,” he says. “We’re just getting started on that. We hope to fill this position as soon as possible.”