Coalition of Rural Community Leaders Launches Effort to Create Cabinet Level Executive

Coalition of Rural Community Leaders Launches Effort to Create Cabinet Level Executive within Whitmer Administration to Prioritize Urgent Needs of Nearly 2 Million Rural Michiganders   

LANSING – A mounting stack of sobering statistics on the economic and social conditions of rural Michigan is propelling a coalition of rural leaders to launch a push aimed at persuading Governor Whitmer to create a rural affairs cabinet position within her administration.

The group – the Rural Affairs and Development (RAAD) Coalition – says a department or high-level position is necessary to stem the decline of rural Michigan communities, ensure policies benefit them and more effectively coordinate state services needed to sustain outstate communities, families and employers.

“While many of Michigan’s urban and suburban areas are faring well under current economic growth, the economic and social conditions of Michigan’s rural communities remain dauntingly behind,” said Marty Fittante, CEO of InvestUP and co-chair of the Rural Affairs and Development (RAAD) Coalition. “We believe the Governor has an opportunity to ensure the policies of her administration benefit families in every corner of the state and lead the nation in putting the needs of rural dwellers – more than 20 percent of Michiganders living in 59 of 83 Michigan counties – on relative par with their metropolitan counterparts.”

The RAAD proposal is supported by the research findings of Jean Hardy, a researcher at the University of Michigan.  Hardy’s report, “Expanding Support for Rural Development in Michigan,” finds that:

  • Rural Michigan is experiencing extreme “brain drain,” losing its best and brightest because of insufficient opportunities for family sustaining careers.
  • Consolidation of rural hospitals and a loss of specialized services has an outsized impact on health and family retention in rural communities.
  • Rural Michigan continues to lose population. Its population is aging, birthrates are declining, and population growth is coming from individuals near or at retirement age, not young families.
  • Rural communities are often short on capacity and resources to compete for and coordinate large projects. A community’s willingness to tackle an issue can often be overshadowed by lack of capital, tax structure, and a staff capacity to write grants and rally support.

In addition, other articles and studies over the last three years have chronicled this rural Michigan struggle, including some eye-popping data, including:

  • 84 percent of state supported jobs were located in metro Detroit/Grand Rapids (MLIVE, 2017)
  • 49 of Michigan’s 83 counties, including virtually all of northern Michigan, in 2017 had more deaths than births (Bridge Magazine, March 2019)
  • A recent report on jail populations announced by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist showed that “rural jail populations, especially where there are few mental health and substance abuse services, have outpaced urban jail populations.”
  • The number of counties without obstetric care at local hospitals jumped in the last 10 years, with 400,000 more people living in counties without OB units at their hospitals, a 50 percent jump from 2008 (Bridge Magazine, 2019)
  • Rural Michigan counties led the state in suicide rates from 1999 to 2017 (Bridge Magazine, March 2019)

A full list of rural related articles and statistics can be found here: RAAD Rural Data.

Rural Michigan’s challenges can be seen across nearly every aspect of community life:  attracting and retaining doctors and teachers, childcare and education deserts, school funding, pregnancy and maternal health care, property values, municipal debt, and cyber infrastructure, among others. The RAAD Coalition believes that because these complex challenges run across so many aspects of life, a department or cabinet-level office is necessary to elevate and coordinate the policy to meet these challenges.

“This is data state policymakers can no longer ignore,” said Traverse Connect President & CEO Warren Call. “We have people and communities across Michigan hurting. We recognize the symptoms and we have an opportunity to make things better simply by making our rural neighbors a policy priority.”

RAAD currently is comprised of nearly 100 organizations from across Michigan.  Taking part in the announcement were members of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, the Lake Superior Community Partnership, Invest UP, Traverse Connect, Sparrow Health System, and Michigan Electric Cooperative Association.


About the Rural Affairs & Development Coalition

The RAAD Coalition is a growing coalition of diverse interests, institutions, associations, organizations, companies, and individuals from throughout Michigan who support the establishment of a new Rural Affairs and Development (RAAD) department or cabinet position to make Michigan a national leader in policies that sustain the economic and social needs of rural communities. The coalition is advocating the Whitmer Administration’s creation of the RAAD be among the first gubernatorial administration in the US to prioritize rural community needs to the cabinet level.


For more information on how you can get involved with the Rural Affairs and Development Coalition, check out this article or contact Chamber Alliance Director of Government Relations Kirstie Sieloff at

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