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Kalamazoo Ditches SW Michigan First

Andy Robins

Kalamazoo is cutting its ties to Southwest Michigan First. City commissioners pulled out of the regional economic development agency on Monday February 15.

The decision comes after Southwest Michigan First picked former State House speaker Lee Chatfield as its new CEO. City Commissioner Erin Knott says Chatfield, a Republican, isn't the kind of person the city wants or needs.

"Chatfield ran on division, not unity. Seeing an opportunity to take extreme positions to win a seat by challenging the establishment, he aligned himself with the Tea Party."

Knott is the head of the group Equality Michigan. It fought Chatfield's opposition to expanding Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBTQ people when he was in office.

Knott also says that Chatfield, who would replace long-time Southwest Michigan First CEO Ron Kitchens, isn't qualified for the job.

"Crane's Business Detroit (has a) news article (that) indicated he has no economic development experience."(P) Southwest Michigan First did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other commissioners agreed with Knott that the city should cut its ties to the agency. City Commissioner Jack Urban said, "I just can't understand what Southwest Michigan First was thinking."

The city now handles its own economic development activities. But it's dropping out of an advisory group to protest Chatfield's hiring. And it has canceled $10,000 in annual funding.

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.