In 2010, the city contracted Gary Wolfram, economics professor, and Mary Wolfram, Hillsdale City Council Member, to lead the Committee for Economic Development in the city. The couple now works with businesses and industries in Hillsdale to improve socioeconomic conditions.
“We are local. We know all the businesses and the town. We are connected to the college and Gary’s experience is second to none,” Mary Wolfram said.
The Wolframs help Hillsdale businesses obtain permits, hold events to encourage customers, and encourage media relations.
Gary Wolfram served as the Deputy to the State Treasurer from 1991 to 1992. He also worked as Chief of Staff for Michigan Congressman Nick Smith in 1995. In 1998, Gary Wolfram answered an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal for an economics professorship at Hillsdale College and subsequently was hired to begin work in January of 1999.
During his professorship, Mary Wolfram worked at Hillsdale Academy teaching eighth grade. Once her last son graduated eighth grade, she decided to run for City Council and was elected in 2010.
At the same time she was elected, the director of economic development position was vacant. It seemed like the perfect job for her and her husband, Mary Wolfram said.
“There has been a decline in industry, tax revenue, the number of stores, a general decline in the socio-economic status of the citizens,” she said. “I just wanted to help, and I wanted to help bring some economic development to the city.”
The Wolframs said the city’s main strength is the college. They see the best way to improve the town is to integrate the city and the college.
“Over the years there has seemed to be a divide between the two,” Gary Wolfram said.
One of the first activities that the Wolfram’s planned was the 100th anniversary of Hillsdale City Hall, in 2011. They decided to hold the event during Parent’s Weekend, which attracted more people than they expected. Now they try to hold events during Parent’s Weekend, CCAs, and Homecoming Weekend.
Gary Wolfram thinks that the divide comes not from hostility between the town and the college but a disconnect between the two. He said that better contact could solve the problem and help the city of Hillsdale succeed.
Mary Wolfram wants to attract businesses to Hillsdale that cater to college students.
“We have a town with a college in it, but we are really not a college town,” she said. “When you go to downtown Ann Arbor you think, ‘Oh my God I’m in a college town.’”
Mary Wolfram also helped Students in Free Enterprise start working with downtown businesses to improve their websites and to help with day-to-day business.
“Mrs. Wolfram is really excited and that makes us excited too,” said Dan Thelen, President of SIFE.
Mary Wolfram encourages students to help the businesses of Hillsdale succeed.
“Students could just patronize the businesses. Come downtown,” she said “Any business helps.”