Bay County Growth Alliance: 50 years of catalyzing change

In 1972, the world stood at the brink of change. Atari released its groundbreaking home video game Pong, Roy Tomlinson sent the first email, and the Philips company built a home VCR. 

What was happening in Bay County was just as revolutionary. Here, a group of forward-thinking business and government representatives founded Forward Bay County Inc. to encourage economic growth. 

Over the next 49 years, the organization changed its name to the Bay County Growth Alliance with its focus to help provide funding options for business expansions and civic projects. To fulfill its mission it has partnerships with the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Bay Future, and the Bay Area Community Foundation

What hasn’t changed is its basic mission of making Bay County a better place to live and work.

Bay County Growth Alliance President Chris Girard says the organization remains committed to anything that spurs growth here.

“We want to partner with the community,” Girard says. “When you talk about these projects that we’re doing, at the end of the day, we want them to lead into other projects. It’s an opportunity.”

If you’re not a business owner or government official, it’s possible you haven’t heard of the Growth Alliance, which has offices at 812 N. Water St. It shares offices with the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and Bay Future. But you have definitely benefited from its work.

For example, the Alliance was heavily involved in developing Valley Center Technology Park in Monitor Township. It helped fund the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA at 225 Washington Ave., Mill End Lofts at 808 N. Water St., Pere Marquette Depot at 1000 Adams St., and the Wenonah Park Bandshell. 

A major project currently being funded by the Growth Alliance is moving the Antique Toy and Fire Truck Museum from its former home at 3456 Patterson Road to an old fire station at 115 Washington Ave. in Downtown Bay City. 

The Bay County Growth Alliance uses grant money to help make the community a better place to live, work, and play.Late in 2019, the Alliance began quietly partnering with local agencies such as the Downtown Development Authority and Bay Area Community Foundation to provide grants to enhance our community. Several local businesses used that grant program to improve their faces.

The Alliance works behind the scenes, quietly partnering with local agencies such as the Downtown Development Authority and Bay Area Community Foundation to create opportunities for businesses to improve their facilities. Read more about the grants in this Nov. 7, 2019 Route Bay City article.

Work going on now to renovate a long-empty waterfront building into Drift Bay City, 1019 N. Water St., got a boost from the Growth Alliance. 

The agency also is helping owners cover the cost of upgrading building facades to improve the aesthetics in the area. The M-2 barbecue restaurant, 207 Center Ave., is one example of a facade improvement grant. 

The Growth Alliance rarely fully funds a project. Instead, Girard says it offers grants to supplement what business owners are spending. He points out that it’s unusual for entities to offer grants to businesses, but it’s proven to be an effective strategy here. “It spurs other investments,” Girard says.

Like every other community, the pandemic took a toll on Bay County. But Girard also thinks the federal stimulus dollars went a long way toward helping businesses and families recover from the economic impact of business closures and capacity restrictions designed to slow the spread of disease.

Going forward, Girard sees only good things for the Growth Alliance and the community. Outdoor dining districts in Downtown Bay City and along Midland Street attracted locals and visitors to discover all the community offers. When the pandemic fades, Bay County expects to see growth and prosperity.