Homecoming: Craig Goulet reflects on his first year as City Manager of his hometown

Craig Goulet’s return to his hometown of Essexville is more than a homecoming; it is a commitment to building a legacy of progress and prosperity.

Goulet, who accepted a post as Essexville City Manager just about a year ago, says he has a passion for revitalizing Downtown Essexville and ensuring community safety.

Goulet grew up in Essexville, graduating from Garber High School. Since then, he’s worked in various roles, including a stint with Bay County as Director of Administrative Services. When the opportunity to serve as Essexville City Manager arose, though, Goulet realized the intrinsic value of contributing to the place he calls home.

“Having the ability to work within the city where my wife and I chose to purchase a home, where we both went to school at Garber High School and where we’re choosing to raise our kids — it was a relatively easy decision.”

Essexville is home to about 3,200 people, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. More than 85% of the single-family homes in the community are owner-occupied. The Woodside Avenue Business District offers a mix of convenience and specialty businesses, while the Saginaw River waterfront serves as an essential hub for the storage of petroleum products, cement, stone, and agricultural goods.

Goulet’s leadership style is collaborative. He spends time listening so he’s well informed before making any decisions. He’s taken his first year as City Manager to listen and learn. He’s listened to city staff to learn about their roles and workplace culture. He’s met with community members to hear their stories and hopes for the future of Essexville. He’s talked with business leaders about economic development, job expansion and retention, and sustainability.

“It’s OK to admit you don’t know everything, ask questions and learn.” Goulet says.
As a result of those conversations, Goulet is ready to help guide his constituents and his community as the world around them changes.

Communication is key

Goulet recognizes that his constituents span a spectrum of communication preferences. Some still yearn for the days printed newspapers delivered to their doorsteps, while others cannot imagine a world without constant smartphone notifications. 

“There’s not a perfect way,” Goulet admits.

In the age of social media, the variety of communication channels has exploded, creating a complex web of options.

“We’re sitting at a fork in the road, but the fork has multiple spokes, and you’re trying to cover all of your bases,” Goulet says.

The city is adapting, creating a Facebook page and updating its website, but Goulet also recognizes that a balance between the new and the old is essential. 

“If you change everything all at once, I think it would create more confusion and issues,” he says. “You have to offer the ways that you have available at your fingertips and do your best to stay consistent with those.”

Going forward, Goulet promises to stay open to evolving communication technologies.

Elevating Downtown Essexville

One of Goulet’s primary objectives as City Manager is to revitalize Essexville’s downtown area. Reflecting on his childhood memories of a more vibrant downtown, he notes there is a solid foundation. 

“I remember riding my bike around as a kid and seeing a whole slew of businesses,” he recalls. 

His goal is to re-capture that vitality and attract new enterprises to the area. A thriving downtown not only offers economic opportunities but also strengthens a sense of community.

He points out that iconic local businesses, such as Triple R Trucking and American Gourmet of Snacks, LLC, are not just places of work. They are deeply rooted in the community, actively participating in local events and initiatives.

Goulet is playing the long game when it comes to economic development. He expects significant changes could take a decade or more. Pay attention, though, and you’ll see signs of growth along the way.

“Change happens each day and builds over time,” Goulet says.  “There are buildings downtown that are well-maintained, yet vacant. Why is that? Are the owners concerned about change or are there other things we need to know?  We need to work together on changing this.”

He is working with Bay Future on economic development initiatives.

Prioritizing community safety

Community safety is paramount. Goulet and his team are taking steps to ensure the city remains a safe and secure place for residents. They’ve re-introduced a Court Enforcement Officer to address issues such as parking violations, civil infractions, building codes, and sign ordinances. The officer also promotes city beautification and safety.

Staffing challenges in public safety are a concern for many municipalities, and Essexville is no exception. 

Goulet and his team are proactively addressing these issues by considering measures to attract and retain officers. The city ramped up the tools available to the Public Works Department and took other internal steps to help in retention and recruitment.

Whether he’s working on public safety or economic development, Goulet says he always tries to lead through listening. He asks questions, seeks input from his team and stakeholders, and collaborates with others. Recognizing that every perspective counts, Goulet is committed to making informed decisions that benefit the entire community. 

As he reflects on his journey and the challenges that lie ahead, Goulet remains dedicated to preserving Essexville’s sense of pride and community. He sees his role as City Manager as being part of a team with the goal of creating a safe community with a thriving downtown that can continue to serve as home for generations to come.

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