ST. JOSEPH — Cornerstone Alliance is working to address one of Southwest Michigan’s biggest obstacles – stagnant population growth.

The economic development agency announced Wednesday that it is collaborating with community organizations, companies and individuals on a recruitment campaign called “Vacay Every Day.”

According to Cornerstone Alliance President and CEO Rob Cleveland, Berrien County has had a slight population decline in each of the past seven years. 

“The entire focus is to recruit new people to the community,” Cleveland said Wednesday. “We’re capped based on the number of people we have in the community. Last year, Amazon made a big splash when they announced a second corporate headquarters. And one of the minimum requirements was you needed 1 million people in your MSA.”

From an economic development perspective, Cleveland said similar requirements are some of the things Cornerstone hears from companies looking to relocate facilities.

Cleveland referred to the Vacay Every Day campaign as a “community-owned asset,” created by King Media – a St. Joseph marketing and public relations firm. 

The campaign, geared toward tourists who visit Southwest Michigan every year, was created to encourage visitors to make the region their permanent home.

The campaign will launch in the fall with television, radio, billboard and social media outreach. It is expected to continue into the spring of 2020. 

Cornerstone Alliance held a public reveal Wednesday at the Shadowland Pavilion to highlight the area’s draw, while also showing poster boards and the decal that will accompany the campaign.

“This campaign is about diversity in people, in seasons, in activities,” Cleveland said. “You won’t just see beaches in these campaigns.”

As of this year, Berrien County has about 156,000 residents. However, Cleveland said the goal is to increase the county’s population by 10 percent over the next decade.

In 2017, Michigan saw its lowest birthrate since 1945. 

All of that comes on the heels of the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau announcement that national population growth (0.62 percent) was at its lowest levels in more than 80 years. 

“We want to reverse that trend,” Cleveland said.

A community initiative

Cornerstone officials reached out to King Media for the campaign this past spring. However, talks regarding what the campaign would entail began earlier in a meeting in Lansing.

“We had further conversation and realized how important this is,” said Christina Frank, vice president of external affairs at Cornerstone Alliance. “By leveraging one of our community’s greatest assets – a thriving tourism industry – we will be able to target and educate an audience that has the greatest potential to relocate to our community.”

Frank said the Cornerstone Alliance Board of Directors supported the initiative after identifying the population decline as a community-wide challenge. 

The board has committed $50,000 for the first two years of the campaign. Frank said they are looking for organizations to get on board and help support the campaign past 2020.

She said this will be a non-branded campaign so tourist councils and other area agencies can use the campaign slogan and decal.

Frank reiterated the effort is a recruitment campaign – not a marketing endeavor.

“We’re blessed to live in a place that people spend an entire year saving up their time and money to vacation here,” Frank said. “So why can’t we show them you could spend your whole year here.”

Frank said the Vacay Every Day campaign should have a domino effect on the community. 

By bringing in more residents, Frank said there will be a larger workforce, which would lead to an expanding tax base, more funding for local schools and more businesses setting up shop.

“We want kids in our schools and people who will join the workforce and buy a home for a family,” she said. “Every person can benefit from this campaign. It truly is a community initiative.”

For more information on what the campaign includes, visit vacay-everyday.com.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski