January 13, 2003 - Daily Tribune: Yemen RPCV Joyce Seitz appointed Development Director for Madison Heights

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Yemen RPCV Joyce Seitz appointed Development Director for Madison Heights

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City hires development director*

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City hires development director

By: TOM WILLARD, Daily Tribune Staff Writer January 12, 2003

MADISON HEIGHTS - Joyce Seitz will talk business with anyone willing to listen, no matter the language.

Hired this week as the city's first economic development coordinator, Seitz has navigated a zig-zag career course that has included a couple of international ports of call.

A former California school teacher, Seitz spent the first half of the 1990s in Yemen as a Peace Corps volunteer and as education and human resources development officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In 2000, she worked as executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Northeast China, helping the Big Three automakers and other U.S. corporations make inroads in the Asian market.

Seitz, who learned some Arabic and Chinese during the sojourns, is likely to encounter both languages in Madison Heights, which has an ethnically diverse population and business community.

An ability to chat with foreign-born merchants in their native tongue or to understand their cultural values will serve her well as the person Madison Heights officials are counting on to bolster the blue-collar suburb's reputation as the "City of Progress."

"If I can help bridge that gap, I'll do it," said Seitz, who holds a master's degree in public service management from DePaul University. "I'll have a little more insight because I've lived (overseas). Every little cultural experience will help."

Seitz, most recently the economic development director for the city of Lincoln Park, was chosen from among 22 applicants for the full-time job in Madison Heights. She will be introduced at Monday night's City Council meeting.

"Joyce has the necessary experience, expertise and initiative to help institute a strong presence as economic development coordinator in order to continue the city's commitment and continued interest in nurturing the economic development of the city," City Manager Jon Austin wrote the council in a letter announcing his selection.

Establishing a program to spur economic activity and address a sizable amount of vacant commercial and industrial property in the city was a council priority this year.

Madison Heights is adding the $46,000-a-year coordinator position in the midst of budget concerns fueled by losses in state shared revenue that have forced other south Oakland communities to lay off employees and cut services.

The increased property tax revenue Madison Heights will realize with an employee dedicated to business retention and development will offset the program's expense, however, city officials said.

"This is one of those cases where you have to spend money to make money," said Councilwoman Marilyn Russell. "We've pared everything to the bone and bringing in new property tax is the only way of raising revenues now."

Seitz will be responsible for coordinating all of the city's economic development efforts with an emphasis on redevelopment, cultivating potential projects in conjunction with the Downtown Development Authority and the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

The DDA has been mostly inactive while it continues to repay a $156,000 loan from the city for installation of an electronic clock tower at the 11 Mile and John R intersection - the heart of the DDA district - in 1999.

Clocks, brick pavers and decorative lighting are the kinds of aesthetic improvements that can go a long way toward revitalizing a struggling downtown, said Seitz, who witnessed that very thing in Lincoln Park.

Communities need an economic development coordinator to make a downtown viable but are often reluctant to pay someone for that specific purpose, said Seitz, who credits Madison Heights for taking a "smart" and aggressive approach to stability.

"I think it's a key component of the city's efforts to keep the economic vitality of the city moving forward," said Community Development Director Jim Schafer, who will supervise Seitz.

"I think it underscores the importance of our businesses to the community," he said. "It's always been important, but typically, economic development becomes more of an issue during downturns or stagnant periods."

Madison Heights officials are particularly interested in reducing commercial and industrial vacancy rates, currently at 6.7 percent citywide and nearly 10 percent within the DDA district. There are approximately 1,300 businesses in the 7.5-square-mile city.

"We do have some vacant property here and hope she's going to work to fill that up and keep the business that we have. I think it's very promising," said Councilman Richard Clark, president of the Madison Heights-Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce.

Seitz will work with the chamber as well as local real estate agents and landlords to match businesses that want to move into the city with properties available for lease or rent.

Though she'll become more intimately familiar with the area in coming months, Seitz said Madison Heights is an attractive place for business, with seven industrial subdivisions, proximity to major roadways and a supportive local government.

"Madison Heights is a nice little city surrounded by many other nice cities, so there's a huge customer base within a five-mile radius," said Seitz, a St. Clair Shores resident. "Michigan is a hot place right now ... The tech industry is booming, no matter what people say. Michigan is always going to do well because of our cars and technology, and that's the way to sell it."

Staff writer Tom Willard can be reached via e-mail at tom.willard@dailytribune.com or by phone at 248-591-2564.

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