There’s a really cool movement starting to creep across rural America. It’s a movement to make rural relevant and attract people back to work, live, and engage in the rural space. I’m all in with the concept because it speaks to the very heart of our own vision of creating vibrant, relevant, and sustainable rural communities.
The movement is starting to get some traction here in our headquarters-hometown of Cassopolis, population just north of 1,700. Late last year Village officials approved a significant investment to begin revitalizing the downtown corridor. Plans are in place and work is slated to begin this year. This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, and requires the collective cooperation of both the business and residential sectors, but there’s definitely a buzz about town.
We’re an active participant with the efforts within the Village, and also taking our own steps of making rural relevant. Early in 2016 we inked a deal with the Ed Lowe Foundation to purchase 500 acres of land at the intersection of Decatur Road and M60, and developed about 60 of those acres for our state-of-the-art headquarters facility. I believe that Mr. Lowe had a vision for how this land would ultimately take shape, and that our facility is just the first step of his vision coming to life.
Step 2? We’re in the very exciting first stage of reimagining about 300 acres of former farmland. It’s a blank canvas of opportunity and we’re starting to put some color and texture to that canvas. With the help of a number of partners, we’re in the foundational stages of developing this property into a business park. It’s a hand-in-glove fit with the Village revitalization efforts, with both ultimately transforming this community in ways no one ever imagined.
The SMART (Southwest Michigan Advanced Research and Technology) Park will drive local economic development efforts by creating new jobs, bringing more people into the local community, and changing the very landscape of Cassopolis. Not only do we offer the most robust electric and fiber internet infrastructure available, we also have the unique opportunity to leverage the railway that crosses our property. That could prove to be a huge benefit to the existing business community, and a major draw for potential tenants.
I’m beyond eager about how this will take shape, although I fully recognize it is a long-term endeavor. I envision a unique and innovative development, much like our own facility, nestled within a beautifully-designed and welcoming park-like environment that connects to the revitalized downtown area with biking or walking paths. I look forward to seeing our blank canvas come to life.
We laid a foundation for making rural relevant with the upgrades to our distribution system and fiber deployment. This is the exciting next step that will continue to transform our area and allow people to start or maintain businesses and residences in the quiet beauty that typifies the rural space.