|Surveys, vocational education, more collaboration and maximizing of resources, along with workshops, and the development of a clearinghouse of events were some of the ideas discussed at the Gratiot County Strategic Planning session Wednesday night.
Elected officials and community members were charged to find something that could be completed in 14 months.
Formed into groups to discuss topics such as economic development or education, they often overlapped.
Kirk Smith, on the Breckenridge Planning Commission, represented his group on economic development. He suggested a wage and employment survey that would outline what employers need now and what they might need in the future.
Education for those jobs could and should be provided.
A survey of the county's infrastructure and its agricultural needs was also suggested.
Nick Piccolo, Alma City Commissioner representing the panel on education, also spoke of the need for vocational training in the county.
His group saw a need for affordable day care, and perhaps foreign language instruction in the elementary schools.
He also said that it would be a good idea to look at what schools will be like in five years. And, he presented the possibility of a Gratiot Isabella Regional Education Service District millage to provide the seed money so training could take place in Gratiot.
"Do we invest in Gratiot County?" he asked. "Can we do this?"
Ithaca City Manager Chelsey Foster represented the panel on public service and he spoke of the collaborative efforts already begun in areas of public safety, with fire and police.
He said that when his fire board gets together they often ask, why is this area in the Alma Fire District and this one in Ithaca's?
"It's high time we take a look at those maps," he said.
Transportation is available in Alma and St. Louis, the Commission on Aging provides some transportation, along with the Patient Equipment Locker and the Chippewa Cab.
"We perceive there is a need, but is there really?" he asked.
A survey is needed for that as well.
The cities have discussed joint bidding, getting the department of public works for all three cities together and the possibility that Ithaca would join with Alma and St. Louis on their waste management.
He also suggested that every community "chip some money into the pot" to buy fire equipment, as an example, that could be shared by all.
Becky Roslund, Ithaca's former Downtown Development Director, represented the panel that was focused on the county's downtowns.
They discussed many things, she said.
Among those ideas included outdoor seating, workshops for businesses that could include the best utilization of space as well as safety factors.
Cluster stores, extended store hours, the creation of incubator businesses, downtown work co-ops for high school students, and heated sidewalks were some other ideas.
Making the downtowns "golf cart friendly," was another idea, along with encouraging retirees to move downtown.
Pine River Township Supervisor Kevin Beeson represented the panel on the quality of life in Gratiot.
"We like it the way it is," he said. "It's not Saginaw or Lansing. You can walk up and down the streets."
The county and the cities have parks but they could be used better, he said.
Rails to Trails was another asset but not easily accessible to all in the county, he said.
Countywide recreation doesn't exist as it does in other areas of the state.
"We all do our own little thing," he said.
But when it comes to culture, the area is blessed, he said, noting the Alma Symphony, Alma College's Theater for Performing Arts and Gratiot County Players to name only three.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows about those types of activities.
"There isn't a clearing house," he said, "and we don't know where to look."
But he also mentioned "The Restaurant."
"Anyone heard of that before?" he joked of the community's often-expressed desire for one of many popular chain restaurants.
"We all feel that need," he said. "We either eat on red plastic seats or go to Mt. Pleasant. We feel we're being cheated because we're not big enough."
The restaurant would be successful, he predicted, "if they'd just build it."
He also suggested the creation of a park where people could ride their all-terrain vehicles.
Alma City Manager Phil Moore told those in attendance that their planning would not stop with the night's session.
"We expect you to help us in the next step," he said, informing them of the meeting later in the month to work out ways to implement the suggestions.