Q & A with Amber Clark, the neighborhoods & economic development director in Meridian Township

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected economic development in Meridian Township, forcing businesses to adapt to constant supply chain issues, according to Amber Clark.

 Clark, MT’s neighborhoods and economic development director whose job includes a lot of face to face interaction and relationship building has had to adapt to the world of virtual work.

Despite these challenges, she is still working hard on project openings to bring new economic development including a Detroit original restaurant chain that’s eyeing a spring grand opening.

Spartan Newsroom reporter Jenna Malinowski spoke with Clark about her role in the economic development department, upcoming projects and how COVID-19 is impacting her job.

Jenna Malinowski: What does a typical day at work look like for you?

Amber Clark: A typical day is atypical. It really does depend on the day. It may start with a board or commission meeting or end with a board or commission meeting, working with the township. So, my primary role as neighborhoods and economic development director is to work with the stakeholders within the community to better advance the growth and sustainable direction of our community, and it varies. We are focusing priority development in some of our most concentrated, dense population areas, and we’re leaving some areas of our community’s open green space as possible. So, another big leg of my job is to help make the master plan and fulfill the goals of the master plan.The master plan is, some communities call it the comprehensive plan, but it’s basically just the planning commission and township board’s view of where certain activities will happen and how large those developments can happen and my job is to try and make it happen. So lots of meetings, lots of talking, lots of research and a big part of my job is relationship building, knowing who’s doing what, who’s got ideas and what things — what benchmarks we’re at right now and what we can do to make Meridian Township an even better place.

Malinowski: How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the way you do your job?

Clark: Well, I mean the two of us are in an interview right now. I was expecting in taking this role that much of this kind of work would be done with my face showing completely and generally every meeting would be in person. I fall into the category of millennials. I think it’s great to use technology to advance efficient work, and my work is relationship building, like I just said. I believe truly that it’s great to look people in the face to see their expressions really in true time to gain that interpersonal reaction about what they’re talking about, how passionate they are about certain things. It helps you to gauge the conversation or where to engage them in a conversation, so that’s one big thing. It’s probably been reported from the Spartan Newsroom to LSJ to every possible record of how crazy supply chain has been, how crazy the labor force has been and those are exacerbated by the condition of the economics in general and so many of us believed we would have been entering into a recession of sorts because COVID just really threw everything out of whack. None of us ever anticipated virtually shutting down everything ever in our lives, and I don’t believe we’ve truly come from the rebound of just the shutdown in and of itself. Now that we have to practice social distancing, the impact to my job, to contractors, to construction timelines, to supplies for businesses top open, you know if it’s a restaurant they have specialty equipment that they’ve ordered, well if it’s very special it’s more likely they don’t have it, and it’s not going to meet their timeline and that pushed things back and people want to know when can they get into this restaurant or when is this going to start, and it’s been a very hard thing to pin down because none of us have a solution for it, so we’re just working through it.

Malinowski: What’s an upcoming project in Meridian Township that you are most excited about right now?

Clark: Let’s say a project opening. There are a lot of irons on the fire here in Meridian Township, but we all are very, very excited and anticipating the Buddy’s Pizza development on Grand River where Burger King used to be. Of course some people are always sad to see a restaurant go, but I’m really excited to see an opportunity, especially one that was born here in Michigan, expand into our region. It says a lot about Meridian Township, so that’s one I think a lot of people are excited about, and I’m excited about it, the pizza is pretty good.

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