A Natural Place to Move
Business View Magazine interviews Mayor Patricia Randall of Portage, Michigan for our focus on Economic Development in U.S. Cities
Natural can mean a few different things. It can refer to something from nature. It can refer to someone or something being at ease. It can also refer to an inborn, innate quality.
Portage, Michigan, embodies all these definitions of ‘natural’. Their leadership is intentional in developing, renovating, and cultivating a city that makes it both an easy and beautiful community to be in. For a long time, Portage was viewed as simply a suburb of Kalamazoo. But in recent years, the growth and development have given it its own unique identity. It’s become a natural place to move.
Located an hour from Lake Michigan in Southwest Michigan, Portage is exactly halfway between Chicago and Detroit. It makes for a great destination and an ideal place to settle down. Acting City Manager Adam Herringa has worked with the city for 17 years and has two daughters in the local schools. He notes, “One of the things this community has is a great blend of employers where you’ve got both major and smaller employers in the community. They’re supported by a very robust and well-respected school system and library system – a great blend of the public sector and the private sector working together to make a community really grow and thrive.”
Most notably, Pfizer Inc. and Stryker Corporation have major corporate campuses in Portage. “Both of those had significant roles to play in the pandemic recovery. We were visited by President Biden, so we really had some global outreach,” Randall adds. “We have many other manufacturers that are supportive industries, like Kenco and FedEx. A lot of these support Pfizer.” Portage garnered world-wide media coverage in December 2020 when the first approved COVID-19 vaccine rolled out the doors of Pfizer’s Portage plant and signaled the beginning of the fight back against the virus. Recently, Pfizer Inc. announced a planned $120 million investment at its Portage facility that will create 250 additional jobs and support the production of its COVID-19 oral treatment, Paxlovid.
But business and industry are not Portage’s only draw. The city takes great pride in the “nature” part of being a natural place to move. The city administration and staff have worked hard to develop their green spaces, now boasting 19 parks and 55 miles of bikeways and trails. The bike trail system development actually began in the 1980s. An active cyclist herself, Randall reports, “We have incredible bike trails. We also have bike lanes – our civil engineer was a road cyclist – and we did it well before it became placemaking and before the Millennial demand for that type of thing. We are environmentally on the Gold list (referring to a designation by the “Michigan Green Communities” program).” Portage continues buying decommissioned railroad beds and transforming them into more trails. They currently have 23 miles of off-road trails and 41 miles of bike lanes. For their efforts, they were recently honored with a Silver Designation from the American Cyclist Association, a step up from their Bronze Designation the previous year.
Herringa acknowledges, “We’ve made a commitment to preserving as much open space as we can. We’ve been a Tree City USA for 31 years now, so we really put a priority on doing what we can to preserve our tree canopy.” Portage is also home to four inland lakes, the Portage Creek, and several bogs.
Another sure-fire sign of a community that is growing and thriving is the health of the local school system. It’s a little easier with community support and a lot easier with funding. Portage has both. The community approved a $175 million bond request for five new elementary schools, and that followed another successful bond passed to build two new middle schools, one new high school and renovate another high school. Additionally, the community supported a $10.5 million dollar restoration project for the district library. “I just think you find a very sophisticated citizen that demands that of us,” Randall says. “We have new schools, from all levels.”
Education runs deep in the region. Kalamazoo County boasts three higher institutes of education: Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. KVCC, in particular, has partnered with many of the local manufacturers to teach specific skill sets. In addition, the Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency (an umbrella organization for the local county school districts) is building a new, state-of-the-art career technology and education center, called the KRESA Career Center. Herringa explains, “It’s right on the border of Portage and will be a fabulous county-wide draw.” A voter-approved millage and local philanthropy are covering the cost of the project.
The City of Portage receives significant support from its citizens when it comes to spending public funds and those citizens don’t shy away from making additional investments. In 2019, the city undertook its first public-private funding approach to build the new Charles & Lynn Zhang Portage Community Senior Center. As the largest donors, the Zhangs – longtime Portage residents and business owners – committed $2 million to help launch this successful fundraising effort. An additional $3.7 million was raised through the generosity of businesses and people across the region. The new facility just had its ribbon cutting in May and came in under budget. The center is a hub of activities and programming, promoting friendships and personal growth with classes ranging from fitness to education. “It’s a safe place where everyone is welcome and equal when they arrive,” Randall explains. “Everyone has a seat at the table and a voice when they get there. That’s really important to me.”
There are more ongoing projects in Portage, too, including the recent construction of a new fire station, and a significant effort to revitalize an area of the city called the Lake Center District by reworking some roads, bike paths, and sidewalks with the goal of making the area a more walkable destination. City leadership is also trying to create a sense of place around the new senior center with more walkable areas. As a precautionary measure and to make maximum use of existing construction closures, the city replaces and reconstructs water mains whenever a reconstruction project provides the opportunity to do so. “We are fortunate that we’re a relatively new community, so we don’t have a lot of the same issues that aging communities have with lead water lines,” Herringa says.
In addition to being proactive, the city leaders are also visionary. As Randall reports, “We have public docking stations for electric vehicles. New hybrid and electric vehicles are in the works for staff vehicles and the Public Works department. The city has implemented a $1.1 million change to City Hall with new windows and updating our HVAC system.” According to Randall, “We’re leading what we are preaching. I think we are going in the right direction. We have a balanced budget. We have not raised taxes.” Under Randall’s tenure with the City Council, the debt load has been cut in half.
With a population of 50,000, Portage continues to grow and housing is number one on the agenda. In that regard, the city recently purchased 13 acres of land near one of the new schools. It’s also close to a park and a lake. Randall explains, “We would like to take an active role in attainable, affordable housing. We are trying to uplift this whole corridor. We think it would be a perfect opportunity to build workforce housing so that people who work in Portage can live in Portage.” City and county representatives have been meeting twice a month, and professionals attend gratis, lending their expertise and services from utilities to designers to landscape architects. This effort on workforce housing is a new concept for Portage, and the city’s leadership is committed to maximizing all available programs and gathering input from the community to ensure demand is met.
Mayor Randall says, “I want to continue to make Portage affordable for as many groups as we can. I would like us to be known for being inclusive. I just want Portage to be known as a safe haven for everyone. We have the support of the council. We have our police department. We go the extra mile to train our employees and our police staff. We’re trying to stay ahead, trying to be proactive to cultural and social changes.”
Sometimes being natural takes some work, and the city of Portage seems to have the right people in place to continue to make it that way. “This community continues to grow and invest in itself, and that makes it a really exciting place to live, work, and raise a family. And then you throw in the location that just really attracts people,” Herringa says. “Once they move here, they tend to stick around.”
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AT A GLANCE
What: A progressive city of 50,000
Where: Kalamazoo County, Michigan
Zhang Financial – www.zhangfinancial.com
The Story of Zhang Financial
Charles Zhang started Zhang Financial, a fee-only wealth management firm, over 30 years ago with the goal of upholding an advisor’s fiduciary standard to the highest level.
The mission of Zhang Financial is to provide each of our clients with truly unbiased investment advice, excellent service, and access to exceptional, low-cost products while serving our client’s best interests at all times.
Why are we Fee-only?
To be free of conflicts of interest. When you work for a firm that is not fee-only, you run the inherent risk that your advisor may be incentivized to choose your investment strategy not based upon your best interest, but rather what will make the most revenue for them and their firm. Many advisory companies pay advisors more in bonuses and kickbacks to offer higher cost investment products to their clients. These costs and fees are often hidden from the investor and are a significant drag on returns and long-term performance.
The only way to be completely unbiased is to be fee-only and choose investments solely based on their potential for returns.
Why should you work with Zhang Financial?
Notable Industry Recognition
Barron’s 2021 Top 100 Independent Advisors List recently ranked Charles Zhang as the #1 ranked independent advisor in the entire nation. He has also been ranked the #1 advisor in the state of Michigan by Barron’s for ten consecutive years. A decade of established excellence within the financial services industry! In addition to the Barron’s recognition, Forbes has also ranked Charles Zhang as the #1 advisor in Michigan on its Best-In-State Wealth Advisor list for 2022. He has been #1 on the list since the ranking’s inception. *
Knowledge and Expertise
We have a highly qualified team of Certified Financial Planners (CFP®), Certified Public Accountants (CPA®), and Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA®). Together, we completely customize each client account based on a variety of factors including risk tolerance, tax efficiency and personal circumstances.
We charge only a flat rate fee, based on the total assets under management. Our competitive flat rate also covers many miscellaneous administrative and trading costs which other advisors would typically pass on to their clients. We have exceptionally low internal costs, something investors don’t always consider when choosing their investment vehicles. By minimizing internal costs, long term performance can be drastically improved. Our “all in” rate is among the lowest in the industry and we will match that of any top ranked advisor. **
Interested in working with us?
For more information, please call 269-385-5888 or visit us online at www.zhangfinancial.com
Our in-state minimum is $1M in investable assets, outside of Michigan our minimum is $2M
*see www.zhangfinancial.com/disclosure for full ranking disclosures.
**A highly-ranked competitor is considered any advisor included in the current year rankings for Barron’s list of America’s Top 100 Independent Wealth Advisors or the 250 advisors on Forbes’ current year list of America’s Top Wealth Advisors.
OnStaff Group – www.onstaffgroup.net
Since its founding in 1985 by Patrick Allkins (CEO), The OnStaff Group has worked to provide customizable services for clients’ specific needs. The three specialized divisions working together to meet these needs are: OnStaff USA, which helps with temporary and direct hire positions, SkillQuest which provides consulting, testing, and training services, and OnCore USA which assists with high skill-level direct hires and contract recruiting.
The OnStaff Group is guided by their founding principles: integrity, dedication, and partnership. Partnership shows in their various relations with companies across Mid-Michigan. They enjoy collaboration for the benefit of placing job seekers in future careers, as well as giving back to their community.
Thanks to years of experience and a hands-on approach to community, The OnStaff Group is aware of and works to respond to local residents’ needs. One such response is their Onstaff Group Dollar Drive Thru, created by Emily Turner (The OnStaff Group President), which supports Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. Through various fundraisers and sponsorships, The OnStaff Group supports local charities, including: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kalamazoo Humane Society, the American Cancer Society, and more. If you’re looking for a company that cares about community, then The OnStaff Group is the place for you! www.onstaffgroup.net
Millennium Restaurant Group – millenniumrestaurants.com
Since 1999, Millennium Restaurant Group has always been in the pursuit of high-quality experiences for our customers. To ensure this we believe in the importance of working with caring, proud, and professional individuals. We are devoted to continuing our tradition of excellence whilst fulfilling the needs of our community. www.millenniumrestaurants.com