Welcome to the next match-up in the third annual Strongest Town Competition! In this round, 16 towns are facing off and 8 will advance to the next segment of the contest based on your votes.

We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about economic resilience, citizen involvement, land use and more, then vote for the strongest. Can't decide? Read commentaries by Strong Towns members to help inform you choice here.

Voting closes at 12pm CT on Friday, March 9.


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Marshall, Michigan

Entry submitted by: Amy Crisp, Scott Fleming, Caryn Drenth, and Richard Lindsey

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

This community works hard to make sure Marshall is preserved and here to stay for many generations to come. Here are a few, or more, examples of the heart and dedication of Marshall, and why I'm so proud to call this home: -Kids’ Kingdom play area at Ketchum Park was built and funded by volunteers for public use. The play area has structures that represent buildings in Marshall allowing children to experience hands-on adventures as well as physical activities.

-Franke Center for the Arts: In 2003 the building was saved and volunteers refurbished the historic building. In 2016, another round of renovations was performed to revamp the downstairs area, thanks to many donations. The Franke Center for the Arts provides a stage to two live theatre groups, umpteen performers and allows service organization to have meeting space. A huge asset to our community in attracting tourists.

 -Marshall Historical Home Tour: This annual event involves hundreds of volunteers for a two-day tour of historic homes, businesses, and churches around the area. The proceeds are for the Marshall Historical Society to maintain three museums in Marshall.

-Paint the Town: Chalk paint donated by Annie Sloan Company with volunteers painting downtown buildings, doorways and window trim.

-Grand Street Park: In 2017 donations were made to create a downtown park after a restaurant fire left the corner lot open. Over $50,000 was raised to make this beautiful area where residents and visitors alike may relax.

- Marshall Annual Christmas Parade: Dozens of volunteers are needed each year to support this parade through the downtown. Thousands of residents and tourists from neighboring towns attend the event.

-Marshall Area Garden Club: Volunteers from this club plant and tend to flower beds around the fountain circle and West Michigan Avenue to help beautify Marshall.

-Great Escape Stage Company: Donations and volunteers have helped to renovate a historic building which is now a black box theater. Day-to-day activities are run by volunteers; live theater is performed at least once a month.

-Dream Dollars Raffle: Rotary and Exchange Clubs sponsor this annual fundraiser to benefit numerous other organizations and sponsorships in the city.

-Marshall Community Foundation: Built totally by donations to fund various community projects from the Youth Initiative (Yackers) to scouting, children’s theater and development of nature trails and so much more.

-Oaklawn Benefit Auction: Donations are given by businesses and individuals to raise money for state-of-the-art equipment for Oaklawn Hospital. Dozens of volunteers are involved in organizing the event.

-Marshall Fountain Clinic is a grassroots organization which gives uninsured or underinsured patients free doctor visits at the clinic. Doctors, dentists, and optometrists donate time to care for these patients. The Fountain Clinic holds several events to raise money for the clinic using many volunteers for the development and execution of the events. 

Forecasts for maintenance are closely reviewed and accounted for and as always, a healthy fund balance remains in place.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

In 2016, the town of Marshall hired a certified economic developer to start bringing in new base jobs, which also helps bring in new dollars to Marshall. Though the employment of the economic development CEO, the locals are now tabulating in new capital investment and a number of direct and indirect jobs which grow the economy. These efforts have led to an estimated $890 Million in capital investments and an expected 285 full-time jobs. Local leaders are heavily involved in the details and have a balanced budget that is approved by City Council. This budget includes new development and capital improvements (i.e. road diet, sidewalks, etc). Forecasts for maintenance are closely reviewed and accounted for and as always, a healthy fund balance remains in place.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

A smile, a "good morning," a giggle and a new friend are a few things you'll find when strolling the streets of Marshall. After all, Marshall is known as the City of Hospitality. Downtown Marshall makes sure to hit all areas of comfort - stay, play, shop, and eat. You will see a family sitting on the bench outside the local bakery with big smiles and chocolatey faces, you'll see ladies coming out of the shops happily holding their latest treasure, you'll find a new couple sitting outside under the awning sharing an appetizer, you'll see the men playing chess on the game tables provided at a pocket-park, and you'll see a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary by taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The biggest attraction to our downtown is our fountain (Greek Revival). Brooks Memorial Fountain often serves as a backdrop for weddings and features colored lights that illuminate the fountain at night. The park features several benches and is a relaxing spot on sunny days.

Another feature used to the fullest is our fairground. The Calhoun County Fairground is home to Michigan's oldest county fair (1848). Not only does the fairground continue to put on an exciting fair every year but they have managed to make use of the grounds every season including music festivals, camping, rodeos, concerts, car shows, vintage shows, weddings, Halloween festival, Christmas drive-through light display and allow rentals. It's a busy place that brings in people from other towns and residents together in celebration. The Marshall community works hard to keep up their buildings and grounds. The sides of buildings have lent blank canvases to local artists providing murals to those entering town, blank spaces have been created into little pocket parks allowing family and friends to meet up or visitors a chance to picnic. It's important to create an inviting atmosphere for visitors and residents alike so you'll often hear music playing in the streets providing a fun atmosphere to be out and about.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

Marshall has steadily increased the types of transportation it provides customers. What started as a local transportation option has now expanded to another local city allowing more opportunities to both the businesses and customers. Marshall isn't done yet, there are even more opportunities knocking on our door.

1. Marshall Dial-a-Ride began service in 1974. As a curb to curb driving service, we help members of the Marshall community travel back and forth to work, school, doctors’ visits, shopping, dining, and more. To make our buses convenient and safe for everyone, the buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts or ramps; making it possible to pick up and drop off passengers at any location.

2. The Albion-Marshall Connector is a curb to curb driving service that helps members of the Albion and Marshall communities travel back and forth between the Cities for a variety of reasons. The bus travels between both communities daily on a set schedule. The bus is lift-equipped and ADA accessible.

3. Marshall is currently looking into the option of a visitor bus which would be used for step on tours around the area as well as provide shuttling services from hotels or stations outside of the area and to the downtown. Stay tuned for more exciting information on this next adventure.

Each small business helps to promote the other, works in concert with each other bringing new life and fun events to our downtown and works with the local community to provide the products and services they request.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

A certified Redevelopment Ready Community, Marshall sits prominently positioned along both I-69 and I-94 between Detroit and Chicago and is home to over 7,000 residents. This makes Marshall an ideal location for both small start-ups and big business.

Marshall, Michigan One of the key players in Marshall is Oaklawn Hospital. Oaklawn Hospital not only contributes very heavily from a monetary standpoint but is also very active in providing free health education to area businesses and its customers. Oaklawn continues to win awards by making customer service and top-notch care their number one priority. Go Oaklawn! As far as a small business key player, we can't choose just one. Each small business helps to promote the other, works in concert with each other bringing new life and fun events to our downtown and works with the local community to provide the products and services they request. Because of the efforts of every business in this community, people from all over are drawn to Marshall which helps us continue to be financially strong.

Industrial businesses are also important partners to Marshall’s growing economy. Top employers, including Tenneco, Eaton Corp., Progressive Dynamics, Marshall Excelsior, Autocam, Tribal Manufacturing, C&S Cartons/JiffyMix, and others employ thousands of area residents and routinely contribute generously to community events. New and expanding businesses choose to locate in Marshall for numerous reasons, including our Brooks Industrial Park, a Michigan Certified Business Park; FiberNet, the city-owned ultra high-speed fiberoptic internet service; U.S. Customs Port of Entry and Foreign Trade Zone; easy access to highway and rail; and a high-quality talent pool.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

A few of my favorite things...

1. Every year Marshall puts on a lighted Christmas parade which brings thousands of people to our downtown and utilizes over 40 local volunteers.This is not a money-making event by any means. It's a memory-making event and tradition that has been enjoyed for generations. It's an honor to be a part of continuing this tradition. This is only one of the many spectacular events happening in the streets of Marshall.

2. Another favorite is when a new business comes to town. It's like a party each and every time. Business leaders, neighbors, and Marshall cheerleaders come out to welcome you, make sure you have everything you need and support you to their fullest potential. What a way to start your business and get exposure. There's nothing better than word of mouth.

3. Preservation would be my next favorite. This town has over 40 historic markers, 8 museums (mostly privately-owned collections) and is home to beautiful homes from Greek Revival to Italianate to Religious Gothic. The best part? There are two events every year allowing you the opportunity to tour these amazing homes full of architectural beauty. This town may be small, but it's packing a lot of love and life, we hope you'll check us out!


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Muskegon, Michigan

Entry submitted by: Mayor Steve Gawron, City Manager Frank Peterson, City Clerk Ann Meisch, Downtown Manager Dave Alexander, Chamber President, Cindy Larsen and many more.

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

We have many examples. Watch Muskegon is the brand for our image campaign where 100 stakeholders, organizations and individuals signed on to help promote and beautify the community. People purchased thousands of dollars worth of T-shirts, signs, buttons and banners to display around the town, inside and outside businesses and in their social posts and traditional media advertising. From this project we created a program called "Muskegon Star". It is a 4 hour training session about the assets of our community. The cost is $25 dollars and in just over a year 1000 people have taken the star training! Now we are incorporating the training into our local school system so they can become "Muskegon Star Students". We are also known as a festival town. For years residents have provided a volunteer base for what are now nationally recognized festivals! Another example, recently you did an article about our Chalet project which was part of a partnership between the private and public sectors to develop downtown.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

Yes, we are a fiscally conservative area in our state. Many community stakeholders have learned over the years to build a plan for sustainability into their projects. An example is our Farmer's Market. Now the second largest market in Michigan, the market was built with donations, not public dollars. After it was built, it was donated to the city to maintain, operate and promote. In high- season over 10,000 people visit the market each week. We are also in the process of building a new convention center where leaders are working on a public/private partnership to build and maintain this important development. Another example is the new dog park. We are building a dog park with donations then and handing it over to a nonprofit to operate and promote.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

We have literally rebuilt our downtown from scratch. We are an old city and at one point the main street was covered with an indoor mall. About 12 years ago we tore down the mall and rebuilt the main street. That gave us the opportunity to incorporate historic buildings with new architecture, pocket parks, public art and beautification. You will see flowers, colorful shopping chalets, a historic walking district filled with Victorian architecture and a back drop of Muskegon Lake. This includes a historic train station, library, museums, homes and churches. Along the lake is a bike and running path that leads you to Lake Michigan. On Farmer's market or festival days you will see many people strolling the streets to stop a local breweries or small eateries. Many first time visitors say the downtown it is "beautiful". It is so beautiful that we are now a regular stop for the cruise ships traveling the Great Lakes. It is great to see a cruise ship in port along side sailing yachts and historic navy ships. For the few vacant lots left, we fill with pop-up events such as volleyball and other outdoor family games.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

Our investment in streets, bike paths and water transportation infrastructure has paid off in more ways than we imagined. Redesigning the streets to be pedestrian friendly, some with boulevards, promenades or bikes paths have attracted residential and commercial investments. Taking away stop lights and replacing them with stop signs has brought a friendliness back to the downtown. The summer trolley system is a great addition for residents and visitors. On the waterfront, the community invested in a cruises ship, marinas and ferry docks. The ships are only 300 feet or less, so they are not intrusive to the relaxing streetscape. The ships carry only about 200 passengers, so again, a welcome number of people blend in to the downtown scene. The way the streets are laid out prevents congestion and provides an easy in, easy out traffic flow on festivals days.

We LOVE Muskegon because it is an eclectic mix of new and old, large and small, inclusive and friendly.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Muskegon has a great mix of manufacturing and tourism. Thanks to a recent merger, Muskegon is now home to the world's largest Kayak manufacturer with new headquarters on Muskegon Lake. KL Outdoor has brought a great sense of pride because the company was locally grown to create a worldwide customer base. Part of that same KL family build what has been called one the best beach bars in America, "The Deck". They are a great example of how manufacturing and tourism can work together. We are home to Michigan's Adventure, one of the states top tourism attractions is just 10 minutes north of town. We are proud of our local breweries and now a new distillery. We have a great "Blue Economy" which we consider any business related to water. There are many "blue" employers to include university water research to sailing supply and equipment, boat repair and commercial port services. On the manufacturing side we have aerospace, automotive and food processing companies. Many, many to be proud of.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

We LOVE Muskegon because it is an eclectic mix of new and old, large and small, inclusive and friendly. The quality of life is second to none while still being affordable. You can live in a waterfront colonial, modest bungalow or a factory loft. We are all about water recreation and with an infusion of art and culture. We live like we are on vacation. There are not many places in this world where you can have a career in aerospace and be five minutes from your boat. There are not many places where the mayor shows up to greet the cruise ship visitors. There are not many places where the County prosecutor volunteers to participate in a local "Dancing with the Stars" fundraiser. We have one of the largest clusters of fresh water lakes and dunes in the world. Memories are made every night as we watch the colorful sunset over Lake Michigan. We live here by choice. We love Muskegon.


Voting is now closed.