A familiar face in local politics and economic development has taken on a new position. Michelle Coolidge has been named as project manager at Twin Cities Development (TCD).
Coolidge, who is a Bayard native, served for six years on the town’s city council before being elected mayor in 2014.
“During that time, it became apparent that as much as citizens and elected leaders hope for a quick turnaround in the condition of their community, it’s nearly impossible if there are things missing that prevent anything from happening,” she said. “Money is a big one. Sometimes funding just isn’t available for many municipalities.”
Other hindrances might be inherent in the structure of municipalities.
“Policies that aren’t in place, or different ordinances or structures can keep a municipality from making itself available for improvements,” she said. “It could be business attraction or revitalization of different areas. Many people assume the town has everything in place to make economic development happen, but it’s more complicated than that.”
She added that instead of joining those that only complain, she decided to step up and do something about it.
“My background is in business administration,” she said. “But once I got into politics, I got the bug for community development and revitalizing the economic status of my town.”
What she learned is that she had to be willing to put in the time and effort to build the growth of a community long-term.
Before coming to TCD, Coolidge was the administrative services coordinator at Western Nebraska Community College. That position allowed her to be involved in larger scale processes that produced tangible results like the college’s complete remodel. But something was still missing.
“I missed the connection I had with the leadership and professionals involved in community development,” she said. “When TCD experienced some staffing growth, I saw an opportunity to get involved again.”
Keith Ellis, TCD community and economic development director, has known Coolidge since she was board chair for the Western Nebraska Economic Development group.
“I was impressed with her leadership skills and her ability to take on projects,” Ellis said. “She has the ability to get things done.”
One long-term initiative Coolidge will be working on is a proposal to bring an innovation center to the area through the University of Nebraska. Another is TCD’s recently introduced PEER7 program to area high schools.
The initiative’s purpose is to create partnerships among area high schools, colleges and universities for skills development, job awareness and education/economic development.
“That will play back into some of my experience in reaching out to other communities to bring them onboard as they build that network,” Coolidge said. “We need to grow our own local workforce that will help attract new companies to the area.”
Although she’s only been with TCD a few weeks, another of her projects is getting an e-kitchen up and running.
The e-kitchen is a commercial kitchen in the former Northfield Villa in Gering. Coolidge said she’s been seeing interest from people that want to develop and market their own food products like jams and jellies, sauces, meat rubs and even full-scale catering.
“The e-kitchen is now certified through the Nebraska Department of Agriculture so food products produced there would qualify for commercial sale,” she said. “It dovetails with TCD’s initiative with the e-center incubator for entrepreneurs.”