Sieloff Joins Alliance As New Director of Government Relations

Kirstie Sieloff

Kirstie Sieloff was announced recently as the new Director of Government Relations for the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. Sieloff will also serve in the same role for Traverse Connect, the regional economic development organization and chamber serving the great Grand Traverse region.

President and CEO of Traverse Connect, Warren Call, shared his enthusiastic support for the addition of Sieloff to the Chamber Alliance & Traverse Connect teams. “Kirstie is bringing years of experience in state government to her role, having worked in the legislative and executive branches in Michigan. As Traverse Connect implements new programs to support sustainable economic growth and the creation of family-sustaining jobs in our region, this is a key time for us to have a strong advocate at both the local and state levels.”

Sieloff has spent her career working from within and outside of Michigan state government. Her tenure most recently includes positions with Disability Network/Michigan, former Lt. Governor Brian Calley and former Rep. Al Pscholka. Sieloff began her career in the office of then-Representative Wayne Schmidt. She is a graduate of Michigan State and resides in Williamsburg. She can be reached at Kirstie.sieloff@traverseconnect.com.

 

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.

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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 Kirstie.sieloff@traverseconnect.com.

Alliance Represents Northern Michigan in Lansing for State of the State

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance was once again well represented in Lansing during Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s 2nd State of the State address on Wednesday, January 29. 

The annual trip – which gives the Alliance a major presence and a voice in Lansing during one of the key events of the legislative year – started by hosting the Governor’s staff to a luncheon and ended with the launch of a rural development coalition which the Alliance has been working for months to build. 

 

As for the Governor’s speech, it was short by historic standards, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. Chamber Alliance partners noted it was also short on references to rural Michigan’s challenges, however, it certainly reignited the road funding discussion. 

Northern Michigan’s legislative delegation, in post-speech discussions with the Alliance, bristled at the Governor’s accusation that no alternative road funding plans had been submitted to her. The Governor’s team continued to assert that if legislators would not act, the Governor would act within her authority to issue bonds for funding road projects on M-, US, and I- roads across the state.

Indeed, the next day the State Transportation Commission voted unanimously to bond for $3 billion to be put into Michigan’s road system. Legislative leaders again demurred that bonding was simply a financing tool, and the task of finding sustainable revenue to meet the future debt obligation on the bond had yet to be completed. 

The Governor’s calendar is busy for the near future. In addition to the State of the State address, she was invited to give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on February 4, and is scheduled to kick-start the FY 2020-21 budget negotiations by delivering her recommended executive budget to the legislature on February 6.  

 

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