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Call to MI Small Towns: Submit Proposals to Attract Visitors, New Residents

Comins Township was the winner of last year's Put Your Town on the Map Challenge, to build a new town square and event center.
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Comins Township was the winner of last year's Put Your Town on the Map Challenge, to build a new town square and event center.

As small towns struggle to recover from the pandemic, a grant program called Put Your Town on the Map aims to support ideas for revitalization.

Even before COVID-19, many rural and small towns were already facing economic difficulties, for instance, young people leaving for the cities. Some towns had not regained unemployment levels from prior to the 2008 recession, and others have limited access to critical infrastructure such as broadband.

Josh Paciorek, media spokesperson for the Consumers Energy Foundation, which is funding the grant program, said residents and businesses in small towns have great ideas for how to help their communities thrive. They might just need a little assistance to get started.

"It's been a challenging past couple of years with the global pandemic," Paciorek acknowledged. "It's definitely impacted some of the smaller communities that are across our state. But as we look to 2022 and the years to come, we know folks are hopeful."

Michigan towns with fewer than 10,000 people are eligible to enter submissions. The top three entries will receive grants worth $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.

Paciorek pointed out last year's winner was Comins Township in Oscoda County, which is now using the money to build a new town square and events area, aimed at attracting visitors and increasing tourism.

"What we're really looking to do with these grant dollars is reward innovative ideas that look to attract visitors or attract folks to move back to these towns," Paciorek explained. "We're looking for ideas that are focused on housing, education or employment, ideas that help create community pride."

The other two towns awarded grant dollars were Pinckney in Livingston County, to build an accessible community garden, and Alma in Gratiot County, for a downtown art corridor.

Originally from just outside Boston, Lily Bohlke is formerly from 2020Talks, a show tracking politics and elections, that started prior to the 2020 Iowa caucuses at KHOI in Ames. She's also a past intern for the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.
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