FACE-TO-FACE – The Oscoda Township Economic Improvement Committee was finally able to meet in person – while keeping a safe social distance, as demonstrated above – at the Huron Shores Artisan Hall on June 9. Among the main items discussed were the upcoming North American Space Summit, as well as the spaceport efforts in the community. Pictured here at left is Oscoda Township Executive Secretary Tammy Kline. Shown clockwise from Kline are Economic Improvement Director Todd Dickerson, Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer and EIC representatives Mark Wygant, Tony Johnson and Robert Tasior.

OSCODA – Participation in the 2020 North American Space Summit (NASS) was among the items discussed at the June 9 Oscoda Township Economic Improvement Committee (EIC) meeting.

Gathering in person at the Huron Shores Artisan Hall, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee went over the latest details regarding both NASS and the spaceport endeavor.

They were advised that Gavin Brown of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA) was on site earlier that same day, touring some of the community’s land, buildings and other such assets.

Following this and other recent communications with those from MAMA, Economic Improvement Director Todd Dickerson said the spaceport possibility is starting to feel a lot more real to him.

He noted that the site tours were lengthy and in-depth, and that Brown is now really delving into the details on what buildings the township has, which structures are suitable for certain types of operations and why people might be encouraged to physically do business here.

As reported, MAMA revealed in February that the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport (OWA) was identified as the top candidate for a horizontal spaceport operation in Michigan, following the initial site selection process. OWA received the highest ranking because of its runway infrastructure, business capacity, operational strength and safety track record.

Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer also shared details on the latest spaceport news at the EIC meeting, telling the committee that he thought the site visit with Brown was very positive.

With the EIC having recently hired Digital 55 to provide marketing services, Schaeffer said that Dickerson worked with OWA Manager Gary Kellan on authorization to fly a drone over the airport. The footage was obtained as part of the tour, so that Brown could have an aerial view of various locations throughout the Wurtsmith District.

Among the development opportunity sites that Brown visited, were the Oscoda Sports Complex; Aune Medical Center; the more than 32 acres of industrial property on Perimeter Road, adjacent to the existing airport operations; and an 8.3-acre parcel on North Skeel Avenue, which the EIC says is prime for a multi-family housing complex. An available hangar and a bunker on the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base were also part of the tour.

Schaeffer pointed out that OWA clearly has some development opportunities, but the airport cannot sell land; it can only lease. The township can sell, though, and he said it would obviously be a very good thing to get properties onto the tax roll and build tax bases.

“There’s plenty of buildings out there that need some TLC, but could easily be very good development opportunities,” he added.

A number of steps have been accomplished in the process of bringing a spaceport to Oscoda for the launching of satellites. But, this isn’t a guarantee and there are more tasks which lie ahead. This includes additional feasibility work, as well as obtaining the Commercial Space Transportation License from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

MAMA planned to submit the final feasibility report on a horizontal launch facility and command-and-control center to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) by the end of June.

Schaeffer also said that BRPH – a planning and engineering firm which has designed other spaceports – is one of the consultants that are on board. “So, they’re going to be helping with the licensure.” This step means that there are going to be data requests for OWA, the EIC and the township.

In terms of other necessary spaceport steps, he reminded the EIC that both an environmental impact study and an economic impact study will have to be carried out, each of which will entail public engagement sessions.

Additionally, he said Brown has noted that an advisory committee pertaining to the spaceport will have to be established. There will be more information to come, as far as how this is going to work, but the idea is that it will be part of the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority (OWAA), with rollout of the advisory committee possibly taking place in September.

*The following italicized information was provided by Oscoda Press/Iosco County News-Herald reporter Patricia Alvord, following the June 11 OWAA meeting:

“They won’t be decision makers, but its being suggested that you get representatives of different groups within the community to not only share accurate information about the spaceport project, but also to receive feedback and provide feedback to those people that are actually doing the planning,” said Kellan.

He told OWAA members that he notified Brown and said a work session to decide on a recruitment process would need to take place. Kellan requested discussion from the authority about how to move forward. 

“I don’t think it’s that bad of an idea to advertise, but what I’d like to see is all the board members put in a name or two, so we have somewhere to draw off to,” said OWAA Chairman Kevin Boyat, adding that they’re looking for no more than seven people to be on the board.

“They’d like to have people that might be dual purpose – real estate and banking – so I thought maybe besides advertising, if the board members come up with a name or two it, wouldn’t hurt either,” he said.

OWAA member Mike Munson agreed, suggesting they look at those involved in real estate, banking, the school systems, churches, someone from Iosco and Alcona counties who isn’t part of the decision-making move and other options to get input from the community at large.

“We seem to know those people out there and we still could advertise for it, too; it isn’t going to hurt. But the more we have to choose from, the better people we get, we’re better off. It’s still going to come back to this board,” said Boyat.

“Maybe, from a timing standpoint by the end of this week or next week, we shoot an e-mail out to Gary with our names and/or if not names, at least areas of responsibility,” Munson suggested.

“Are you implying that the board would make the selection about who would be on this?” asked OWAA member Kevin Beliveau, which Boyat confirmed.

Kellan said he liked the idea of OWAA sharing with him either what agency position, or even names of suggestions, and that the group will begin initiating the outreach process.

In related topics, Brown has shared that the MLI/Oscoda-Wurtsmith Spaceport Development project will be a focus at the NASS, slated for Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 in Traverse City.

To prepare for this, Dickerson said the EIC needs to think about what the trade booth at the space summit is going to look like, what materials need to be created, what information will be showcased and so on. 

The committee has been mulling the size and style options for a trade booth during their last couple meetings, with Dickerson most recently saying that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have a large display. “It’s game time.”

He also stressed the importance of having marketing materials at the event. He explained that, if the EIC knows of any local entities which would loan them a trade booth for the NASS, this would be welcome as it means that resources could be dedicated to the marketing materials and not on having to purchase a booth setup.

Schaeffer said that the new Community Development Fellow will be stationed at the trade booth to highlight the township’s industrial, commercial and residential opportunities during NASS. MAMA will also have something set up for the Oscoda representatives, should they need a facility in which to meet with private sector investors or companies.

In addition to the Fellow, the local representatives expected to attend include Kellan and Dickerson. Schaeffer was to ask the township board of trustees on Monday for approval for him to join, as well.

He noted that the event will be capped at 300-350 people and, if any of the EIC members want to understand more about the spaceport or aerospace, the NASS will be an ideal opportunity to do so.

“If you’re interested, let us know,” Schaeffer said, adding that when he attended the space summit last year, it was packed with information.

For the 2020 NASS, he said there will be representation from the White House, those involved in the aerospace industry, major automobile companies, the Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation and more.

According to the registration details, the focus of the NASS is to provide an educational and networking forum for aerospace stakeholders from academia, government and commercial organizations. The summit features presentations and panels on space industry issues, trends and technology.

When speaking on the overall spaceport initiative, Dickerson said he doesn’t see this topic going away from the EIC agendas. “But, instead of it being just an ‘update,’ I think we’ve got to start thinking about how we facilitate this process through the EIC.”

He said there are things which the committee is going to have to achieve, such as working on the housing issue in the township. “So, what can this committee do to help move that?”

Dickerson told them to expect more to-do items and discussions at the EIC meetings now, as opposed to he and Schaeffer simply giving updates on the project.

In separate business, Dickerson told the committee that the Fellow who was expected to join the EIC team on June 8 – Christina Deehr – has since taken another job.

The committee will instead be bringing on Ryan Madis, a native of the Houghton Lake area, who also has connections to the local community.

He was to begin his work on Monday, virtually, with an in-person start date of July 6.

According to Schaeffer – who took part in the Fellow interview process – Madis has worked in recruiting under Kirtland Community College, and also worked with the Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency. “So, he has a local school district connection, as well.”

Schaeffer said the initial choice of Fellow was very close between Deehr and Madis.

“We had a lot of really good options to choose from with the Fellow. It was very hard to boil it down to even the top two,” he stated at the previous EIC meeting.

Committee member Robert Tasior pointed out that Madis was actually the choice recommended to the EIC by the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM).

Dickerson added that, while Deehr’s technical resume was a little stronger, he thinks Madis’s personality will be a better fit when it comes to working with the public and other groups in the township.

Along with his involvement in the marketing aspect of the space summit, the Fellow will also be responsible for assisting the EIC in Oscoda’s Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) certification and other tasks.

As reported, in a partnership between the MEDC and CEDAM, the fellowship program provides an opportunity to receive additional support for local community development efforts. According to these entities, the full-time Fellows will support and advance community economic development goals, and their projects will improve organizational capacity, increase local collaboration and remove barriers to development.

CEDAM and MEDC sought out municipalities which are engaged in or certified through RRC to host a Fellow for a 15-month placement, and Oscoda trustees approved applying for the program. The township was among the applicants to be awarded the grant for a Fellow, who is typically a graduate student.

In separate topics, the EIC also addressed the following:

• Gave consensus to tentatively schedule Oscoda’s 2020 Downtown Summit on Tuesday, July 28, at the Warrior Pavilion in Ken Ratliff Memorial Park. The plan is to host one event at 3 p.m., and then again at 7 p.m., to allow more of an opportunity for public participation.

• They also shared feedback on the draft stakeholder/public opinion survey – prepared by Dickerson and EIC Chair Mark Wygant – which will be used to get a better feel for what the people want, help formulate the agenda for the downtown summit, and help the EIC prioritize and implement new programs and strategies.

• Were told by Dickerson that the RRC process is 41 percent complete and, once Madis joins the team, this progress will accelerate even more. “I think it’s a very exciting milestone for us.”

• Were advised by Tasior, who also serves on the planning commission, that the group recently had an election of officers. He said that he stepped down as vice chair, and Dan Gary stepped down as chair. Now serving as chairperson is Mimi McDonald, with Ed Davis as the commission’s vice chair.

• Heard from Dickerson that a $30,000 grant application for MEDC’s Match on Main COVID-19 Response Program has now been submitted. He said that this was done with great assistance from Oscoda-AuSable Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, June Wygant, who was instrumental in reaching out to chamber members and businesses to encourage their participation.

According to the MEDC, this offering temporarily expands the organization’s Match on Main Program and provides up to $50,000 to local downtown management organizations to administer to eligible small businesses.