Ellsworth, Michigan 49729
Phone: 231-588-7411
Email: office@villageofellsworth.com

E & A Development Strategy

Ellsworth – Atwood Community

December 2019

The Ellsworth-Atwood Community, located in Antrim County, reflects the best of values often found in rural America: compassion for neighbors, willingness to volunteer, pride for community, concern for the elderly and poor, and unwavering support for the local school system. And like many rural communities, it is at a crossroads where the population is aging in place, younger members of the community are leaving for college or job opportunities upon graduation from high school, the once-active business district is declining, and the remaining residents need to travel further for basic goods and services.

But unlike many rural communities, the Ellsworth-Atwood Community has rallied around a broader vision for the community and pulled together a cross-section of community leaders and the community to ask a direct question: What is our vision for the future?

A vision is not a mission statement but rather an acknowledgment, based on discussion and consensus, of what we would like to be without being shackled by biases, lack of funding, and political entanglements. If we were to describe a vision by use of an analogy, it is our personal or community description of the “promised land.”

The Ellsworth-Atwood vision is a community that has opportunities for all residents, a prosperous community that is thriving personally and economically, a destination for visitors and tourists, independent, open- minded, and charming.

The strategic priorities and action plan in this report are the path to get to that promised land. The original strategic plan was developed in 2016 through a community-wide visioning process. In 2020, the Ellsworth community updated this strategic plan to realign priorities as a part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)’s Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) program.


What we want to become as a community.

What guides us along the path to achieve the vision. In the Ellsworth-Atwood Community, these values include:

COLLABORATION Working together to achieve results.

Looking forward but holding on to past best practices.

CLOSE-KNIT Concerned more for neighbors and residents without regard to jurisdictional lines.

CARING Understanding that everyone needs a seat at the table.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY Strong commitment to residents, business owners, and the Public School.


The steps and actions that we need to take to reach the Vision.






The Ellsworth-Atwood Community is a fairly homogeneous group of people, according to third party data providers ESRI Business Analyst. Third party data providers offer retailers and service providers market- specific information by grouping people into market segments that reflect common demographic and economic characteristics and buying preferences. The old adage that an acorn does not fall from the tree is applicable here, as people tend to locatenearotherpeoplewithsimilar backgrounds, values, and incomes. ESRI Business Analyst finds just two out of sixty-seven unique market segments in the Ellsworth-Atwood Community: Rural Resort Dwellers and Salt of the Earth.


These neighborhoods are found in pastoral settings in rural nonfarm areas throughout the United States. Household types include empty- nester married couples, singles, and married couples with children. The median age is 49.4 years; more than half are aged 55 and older. Most residents are white in these low-diversity neighborhoods.


Although retirement beckons, most of these residents still work. The median household income is $45,733, slightly below the US level. Six percent of those who are employed work at home, twice the US rate. Because so many residents are aged 65 and older, receipt of retirement income and Social Security benefits is common.

More than two-fifths collect investment income; approximately 20 percent receive self-employment

income. Nearly one in four residents aged 25 years and older holds a bachelor’s or graduate degree, and more than half of the residents have attended college.

Buying Preferences

These residents live modestly and have simple tastes. They often work on home improvement and remodeling projects and own garden equipment to maintain their yards. They cook and bake at home. Many households own multiple pets, particularly dogs and cats. Riding lawn mowers and satellite dishes are familiar sights in these areas, along with multiple vehicles, including a truck. Active participants in local civic issues, residents also belong to environmental groups, church and charitable organizations, fraternal orders, unions, and veterans’ clubs. They go hiking, boating, canoeing, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and golfing. TV. The older residents focus on their general health care, prescription medications, and financial- and retirement-related matters. Many residents actively manage or plan their investments and retirement savings. The self- employed residents are more likely to have IRAs than 401(k) plans.


Sixty-five percent of Salt of the Earth households are married couples with and without children. Twenty percent of the households are singles who live alone. The average house- hold size of 2.6 people matches the US figure; the average family size of three is below the US average The median age is 42.7 years. These neighborhoods are the least diverse of the Tapestry segments.


These residents work in profes- sional and managerial positions and unskilled labor jobs. Higher than average proportions work in skilled labor occupations. Approx- imately 20 percent of the workers are employed in the manufacturing sector. The median household income of $48,409, slightly lower than the US figure. At higher than national rates, residents supple- ment their wages with income from interest, dividends, rental proper- ties, self-employment businesses, retirement plans, and Social Security benefits. Forty-one percent of the residents aged 25 years and older have attended college; 15 percent have earned a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

Buying Preferences

Salt of the Earth residents are settled, traditional, and hardworking. Inde- pendent and self-reliant, they tackle small home improvement and remodeling projects. They spend money and time on their flower and vegetable gardens and own the neces- sary tools to handle these chores successfully. Twenty-eight percent of the households own three or more vehicles including a truck; many own a motorcycle. One of Tapestry Segmentation’s top segments for owning or leasing multiple vehi- cles, these residents prefer domestic vehicles and do their own mainte- nance. Most of them carry insurance policies to protect themselves and their families. They invest in annu- ities, certificates of deposit, and US savings bonds. Many families own two or more pets, either dogs or cats. They fish, hunt, target shoot, and boat and work out on indoor exer- cise equipment and treadmills.



The Ellsworth-Atwood Community process of creating a Strategic Plan includes community outreach. In conjunction with this undertaking, a Community Forum was held in March 2016 at Banks Township Hall for the purpose of gathering input from citizens for use in formulating priorities and strategies.

Fifty-one people attended the session that was facilitated by Beckett & Raeder, Inc., planning consultants.

The process used was as follows: Attendees arrived to find tables set with exercise sheets and other materials. The tables were numbered, and these numbers are referenced throughout this summary.

The facilitator asked a series of seven questions, giving the groups approximately five to ten minutes to develop as many answers as possible. Each individual then used dot stickers to indicate his or her preferred answers.

When each table had generated and voted on its top three visions for the future, participants were asked to offer three strategies for achieving each vision. A representative from each group then presented these visions and strategies to the audience as a whole.



The Community Forum was based on a collaborative process investi- gating these six questions:

  1. When asked, how would you describe the Ellsworth-Atwood Community today?

  2. How would you like to describe the Ellsworth-Atwood Community in the future?

  3. What does the Ellsworth- Atwood Community need today?

  4. What are the barriers that are preventing the achievement of the needs?

  5. What does the Ellsworth- Atwood Community need 10 years from now?

  6. What actions need to be taken to accomplish the desired outcomes?



Fifty-one residents attended the Community Forum in the midst of a winter storm warning.

They represented
all segments of the community: young and old, retired and employed, families and empty-nesters, Village and Township.



Questions #3 and #5 were designed to determine what the community really desires. Question #3 asked what is needed TODAY and question #5 asked what is needed 10 YEARS from now. The table below compares the results of the two questions and identifies realistic community aspirations.



10 Years

Key Focus

7-Day Convenience Gas Station X X n

Grocery Store X X n

Diversified Retail / New Businesses X X n

Outdoor Equipment Rentals X

Jobs / Local Employment Opportunities X X n

Affordable Housing X X n

Senior Housing (Apartments) X X n

Senior Assisted Living X X n

Dining and Entertainment X

Public Transportation X X n

Sanitary Sewer X X n

Internet / Fiber Optics X

Blight Enforcement X X n

Natural Gas X

Recreation Trails (Land and Water) X

Medical Center (Rural) X

Light Industry X X n

Better Roads X X n



Communities are often confronted with barriers that impede success. These take the form of
financial considerations, political posturing, lack of administrative capacity, lack of capabilities,
and resident sentiments. Separately or collectively, these barriers determine the success and ultimate disposition of the community. Communities with a “can do” culture are often those that are vibrant and actively sought after by new residents and business. On the other hand, “can’t do” communities are often undervalued, rife with economic and social issues, and adhere to that familiar adage of “same ol’, same ol’.” The outcome of the latter situation begs the question: “If you are not willing to reinvest in your community, who is?”

Residents at the Community Forum identified very specific barriers that they believe are impeding redevelopment and opportunities in the Ellsworth-Atwood Community. These include the following:






Money; low-to-moderate income status Financial conservatism
Ecological vs. economical balance Employment

Lack of sewer system; lack of sanitation system Lack of Class A roads
Natural gas

Aesthetics of buildings; lack of better buildings in town Community revitalization
Accessibility for seniors and handicapped persons
No community center (not using town hall enough) Zoning restrictions

Lack of housing

Fear of change; closed mindedness; prejudice (racial, social economic, cultural); thinking outside of traditions
Realistic expectations
Community support; no youth/younger community engagement; lack of participation and volunteers

Lack of community building events
Collective goals; consensus on action; communication and solidarity Population; lack of population growth; aging population

Distance from amenities; rural isolation; off the beaten path Lack of connections, acknowledgment, publicity, advertisement Lack of recreational activities for all ages
Lack of things to do to draw tourists
Lack of night activities
Lack of access to walking routes and trails
Lack of retail



Strategic priorities are based on the actions that need to be taken to move the community closer to its vision. The priorities must also be tailored to the capabilities and capacity of the community.

The following strategic priorities build on the priorities set forth in 2016, but aim to move the Ellsworth- Atwood community forward to achieve continued economic development.

Master Plan

This strategic plans supports the adopted 2017 Ellsworth Master Plan, specifically goals such as “provide opportunities for economic development through the location of new commercial and limited light industrial businesses and the enhancement and promotion of existing businesses.” High priority actions identified in the Master Plan include continuing to work toward the RRC certification, installing a Village-wide sanitary sewer system, and attracting new businesses to fill empty and underutilized storefronts.


Further, the strategic plan supports the 2018-2023 Village of Ellsworth Capital Improvements Program. Priority projects include the sanitary sewer system, improvements to the community square and Farmer’s market, sidewalk repairs, and wayfinding signage.

Downtown Revitalization

Neighborhood Stability


Housing Development

Economic Development

Tourim / Recreation


Downtown Revitalization


Everyone admits that downtown Ellsworth has seen better days, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a viable business district again.

According to ESRI Retail Marketplace Profile (2016), 27 of 31 retail segments are hemorrhaging dollars from the Ellsworth market. The only significant market category that brings sales into the community is full-service restaurants. Groceries, clothing, sporting goods, home furnishings, and auto related parts and services all leak money to other markets.

Another area of concern is the condition of buildings and several vacanies, which combine to give the business district the appearance of disinvestment.

Actions Needed

  • Adopt the DRAFT DDA Development Plan and TIFA Plan to focus attention on revitalization efforts and set the stage for TIFA funds to be directed towards strategic improvements.

  • Continue to pursue funding from the Michigan Brownfield Redevelopment Program
    and MEDC to conduct a site assessment, remediation,

    and redevelopment of the downtown building with a collapsed roof (6517 Center Street).

  • Install sanitary sewers.

  • Continue to work to fill the


The Village of Ellsworth has 186 housing units, of which 142 are occupied and 44 are vacant (2010 US Census). Renter-occupied property accounts for approximately 26% of the housing stock, which is a reasonable percentage. Vacancy rates for owner and renter properties hovers around 5%, indicating a tight market with reduced housing choices and selection.

Another trend that is not quantifiable, but was noted throughout the community forum and leadership team meetings, has been the incidence of blight and enforcement. Follow-up discussions note that blight is enforced only when a complaint is filed. Residents indicate that blight appears to be increasing, which has an adverse effect on surrounding property values.

Actions Needed

• Pursue grant funds such as
the MSHDA Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP) to help property owners upgrade their homes and make facade improvements.

• Consider contracting with several jurisdictions for a blight enforcement officer and require regular inspections.


The Village of Ellsworth like many communities is aging in place. As residents age they find greater comfort living in and with familiar surroundings. In addition, local agencies and churches assure that the elderly are taken care of and watched. However, aging in place also requires that the community have available housing types that accommodate an older population. The need for senior housing and senior assisted housing were noted as key focus areas. A potential issue is that lack of market. The recently completed Target Market Analysis prepared for Networks Northwest indicates a relatively small potential housing market for Antrim County. Forecasts note 37 owner occupied units and 113 renter units available within the County.

Actions Needed

• Contact MSHDA and USDA Rural Development to discuss the opportunity for a small senior housing project and references for developers that operate in rural markets.

• Reach out to Housing North and HomeStretch to determine opportunities for collaboration on workforce housing in Ellsworth and Antrim County.

vacant grocery store space.

Neighborhood Stability


Housing Development

Economic Development


Jobs, jobs, and jobs were resoundingly noted at the Community Forum. The lack of job opportunities within the Antrim County market is used to explain the loss of recent graduates to other locales and the reason why families are not moving into the general area. In April 2016 the unemployment rate for Antrim County was 7.6%, compared to 5.5% for NW Michigan, and 4.8% for the State of Michigan. Unemployment is not appreciatively high, but underlying factors such as wage rates, seasonal employment, and the journey to work complicate location decisions. Higher paying jobs in NW Michigan are clustered around the greater Traverse City and Petoskey area where health care, financial, and transportation and materials industry sectors are active. Further, these locales provide full access to public water, sanitary, natural gas, and high speed broadband infrastructure.

One factor inhibiting economic development in the Ellsworth- Atwood Community is the partial availability of infrastructure, especially sanitary sewers in the Village. Reuse of Village properties is dependent on sanitary sewers because the small lots cannot accommodate septic systems and fields, especially restaurants. Without a community system, redevelopment is prevented.

A misconception about economic development is that it is dependent on manufacturing employment. This is not the case. In all likelihood,

manufacturing will not locate in the Ellsworth-Atwood area due to lack of utilities and skilled labor, and poor logistics. For example, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget’s Hot 50 Job Demands through 2022 identifies heavy truck operators as the highest in-demand job. In all likelihood, most of these jobs will locate along the I-94 and I-75 corridors, where many of the manufacturing clusters are found, rather than in Banks Township. A possible opportunity is in the area of advanced material processing, which is an emerging industry cluster in NW Michigan. An ongoing study through the USDA Stronger Economies Together (SET) program is evaluating this sector.

However, the quality of life can be an asset to recruit internet-dependent businesses. According to The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, the estimate of U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the first quarter of 2016, adjusted for seasonal variation but not for price changes, was $92.8 billion, or 8% of all commerce transacted. This trend has been increasing ever year since 2006. An example of an e-commerce business in Ellsworth is MI Farm Market.

Actions Needed

• Installation of sanitary sewers.
• Installation of natural gas
• Further expansion of high speed

• Discussion with Northern

Lake Economic Alliance
on e-commerce business recruitment and assistance with regional high-speed broadband.


The Ellsworth-Atwood Community is situated along the US-31 and C-48 corridors. The C-48 Corridor has been branded the “Breezeway” and has gained regional and statewide exposure. Other assets include the number of orchards and farm markets, Chain-of-Lakes, public and private recreation facilities, and access to Lake Michigan.

The natural and man-made assets provide a great combination for land and water nonmotorized and motorized excursions. The Village of Ellsworth is in a unique place to position itself as a “trail town” to launch various recreation venues. Trail towns bring people who spend money on restaurants, gift shops, and lodging. However, becoming a trail town takes coordinated action to provide these services.

Actions Needed

• Work towards a grant to fund a trail town plan for Ellsworth, Central Lake, and East Jordan.

• Consider reviewing the Breezeway media venues to strengthen the brand and dissemination.

• Reach out to the Pure Michigan bureau for possible inclusion in their arsenal of location-specific ads.


Tourism / Recreation


Rural communities don’t lack the desire or the willingness to made their communities stronger economically and socially, but they often times lack the capacity to achieve these outcomes. A strategy to pool limited volunteer resources together is to establish a formally recognized group that works collaboratively on consensus projects. This is called a service hub: a central location where projects are vetted and those of the highest importance and impact to the community are pursued. It is suggested that the Ellsworth hub be structured around a Downtown Development Authority.

DDAs operate under the authority of the Village Council, but given the latitude they can achieve significant results because they have the ability to lease, buy, and sell real estate, construct public improvement projects, and assist with property marketing and redevelopment.

It is recommended that the DDA continue to take a leadership role on redevelopment efforts in the Village and surrounding community. For example, the successful farmer’s market season of 2019 can serve as a launching point for attracting more vendors and other special events at the Community Square. Secondly, the DDA should continue to look for opportunities to partner on private redevelopment projects in the Downtown. One such example is the building with a collapsed roof.

Sanitary Sewers

Continue securing funds for the development and implementation of the sanitary sewer system in the Village.

The Village of Ellsworth has already actively pursued this goal and made significant progress. After completing a Village-wide income survey, the USDA has reclassified the Villageaslow-modincometoallow thequalificationforgrantsandlow interest loans. After completing the initial feasibility study for the sanitary sewer system, Ellsworth should continue to work with Gourdie-Fraser on final design and financing.

Complete Redevelopment Ready

The State of Michigan is favoring communities that have become “redevelopment ready” through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s RRC program. Over the past few years, Ellsworth has made significant progress on this certification process. Over the next year, the Village plans to complete its certification, opening up opportunities for significant grant funds.

Reinforce the Brand

The Breezeway is up and running and has developed its identity, website, and marketing. It is suggested that the brand be revisited and incorporated into a regional wayfinding system. In addition, the assets along the Breezeway need to be packaged into a video that is part of the Pure Michigan cache of community destinations.

Trail Town

A component of the Breezeway initiative is to position Atwood, Ellsworth, East Jordan, and Boyne Falls as trail towns. Trail towns offer multiple venues along both land and water that attract users such as bicyclists, motorcyclists, snowmobilers, canoers and kayakers, hikers, and fishers. These individuals infuse money into the local economy through camping, lodging, eating and dining, and merchandise purchases. Although trail towns are looked at initially as recreation opportunities, they are actually economic development generators.

The Local Grocery Store

The Atwood-Ellsworth Community is a food desert. While a new grocery opened up a few years ago, it has since closed its doors. A potential approach requires collaboration with the lending institution that holds the title to the former grocery store building. What would be needed is an agreement from the bank to allow the DDA time to recruit a developer-investor to rehabilitate the building and re-occupy the space for a food store. Part of the project financing may include the use of the Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (“OPRA”), PA 146 of 2000, and possible funding through the United States Department of Agriculture.



Suggested Program / Project


Responsible Party



Creating the Adopt the DDA Develop- DDA Village Short Term


ment and TIFA plans (>1 year)

Sanitary Sewers

Secure appropriate proper- ties, work with residents to secure support, implement feasibility study



Long Term (3-5 years)

Complete Redevelopment Ready

Complete required docu- ments and processes.



Short Term (>1 year)

Reinforce the Brand

Enhance brand and inte- grate into regional wayfin- ding; statewide marketing

Village of Ellsworth Trail Committee

East Jordan Chamber, DDA, Rotary Charities, USDA RD

Short Term (>1 year)

Trail Towns

Put in place a trail town plan and strategy for the Breezeway

Breezeway Task Force

Rotary Charities, USDA RD

Medium Term (1-2 years)

The Local Grocery Store

Attract a local grocery store within the Village limits


Bank; Private Sector; TED-Michigan Community Revital- ization Program

Medium Term (1-2 years)

The kick-off of the Action Plan includes
a funders’ meeting where various agencies come together to review the Action Plan and potential projects and weigh in on their level of participation.



Lynn Aldrich Spearing Village of Ellsworth Trustee

Hugh Campbell
Village of Ellsworth Mayor

Tom Mann
Banks Township Supervisor

Donna Heeres
Banks Township Clerk

Aaron Gaffney
Ellsworth Community Schools Super- intendent

Mary Faculak
Chamber of Commerce President

Pastor Chris Wallace Ellsworth Wesleyan Church

Mary Peterson
Good Samaritan Family Services Director

Scotty Bruce
MiFarm Market Owner

Dave Heeres
Antrim County Commissioner

Gregg McCallum
A Matter of Taste at Tapawingo Owner

Heidi MacNichol
Petoskey News Review Advertising Manager

John Hastings
Hastings Funeral Home Owner