Fitness centers, gyms and related businesses across the state can apply for grant funding to help them improve health and wellness in their local markets.
The Michigan Fitness Association has opened an application process that runs through the end of 2023 for $8.5 million that was made available in the state’s 2023 fiscal year budget through the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
In administering the grant funds for the MEDC, the Michigan Fitness Association opted not to set a cap on what individual businesses can receive. The association instead wants to see what kinds of innovative ideas applicants envision to promote health and wellness in a state that has high incident rates for obesity and diabetes and then fund individual grants appropriately.
“We want clubs across the state to be creative,” Executive Director Scott Herceg said. “We really haven’t defined what we’re looking for from these businesses across the state other than it needs to help enhance the health and wellness of their community. Whatever those individual communities need and the businesses identify that their communities need, we want to help support that.”
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The grant program’s goal to help fitness-related businesses “enhance the health and wellness” in their communities could “mean a lot of things,” Herceg said. Applicants could seek funds to begin new programs or offer new fitness, exercise and cooking classes; to acquire additional workout equipment to expand or increase capacity; or to boost health and fitness promotion, he said.
Early applicants to the association since the process opened Sept. 5 seek amounts that were “all over the place,” into the several thousands of dollars, Herceg said. Some applicants proposed using state grant funding to add yoga and Pilates classes to members.
“It’s actually playing out the way we were anticipating,” Herceg said.
The MFA Health and Wellness Enhancement Grant program is open to facilities, boutiques, gyms and any fitness-oriented business in the state. The Michigan Fitness Association sent information about the grant program to more than 1,200 fitness-related businesses earlier this year.
The Okemos-based association expects to begin reviewing and make decisions on grant applications in early 2024 and to start distributing funds by midyear, Herceg said. The association has to deploy the full $8.5 million by the end of 2026.
In addition to the funding, grant recipients will also receive a three-year membership in the Michigan Fitness Association.
“This enhancement grant will allow awardees, both big and small, to continue and/or develop programs to help improve the lives of the local population they serve,” said Bryan Rief, the association’s president and co-owner of PF Michigan Group LLC, the owner of Planet Fitness franchises in Michigan and Ohio. “We look forward to seeing the innovative connections fitness entrepreneurs will make with their members and the results they will produce.”
The fitness grants were made available through the MEDC as Michigan ranks poorly against many other states for the health of its population.
America’s Health Rankings, an annual analysis of the health status of each state by UnitedHealth Foundation, ranked Michigan 39th in 2022 for health outcomes, down from 32nd in 2008.
A report the Citizens Research Council of Michigan and Ann Arbor-based research and consulting firm Altarum issued in early August detailed how the state has relatively high incidence rates for obesity and diabetes.
As of three years ago, 35.2% of Michigan residents were obese, which compares to 31.9% nationally and 33.5% in neighboring Midwest states.
Michigan’s incidence rate for diabetes in 2020 was 12.3%, versus 10.6% across the entire U.S. and 10.5% in neighboring states. One in 10 residents had cardiovascular disease, which compares to 8.1% nationally and 8.5% in the Midwest.
Poor health among the state’s population poses “a barrier to children’s educational outcomes and to adults being able to live and work to their fullest potential,” and could affect the state’s workforce and economic competitiveness, according to the Citizens Research Council report.
“This is important for health, this is important for our state, this important for our economy,” Herceg said. “If our workforce is not able to do the jobs that they need to do because of diabetes or obesity or whatever, that’s a significant problem for the state.”
Fitness center operators view their industry as a component of health care that can contribute to addressing poor health, Herceg said. That partly led to about 130 operators, mostly in the Detroit area, to unite in 2020, during the height of the pandemic when they were closed under state orders, to unite to form the Michigan Fitness Association to give the industry a larger voice.
“Here is an industry that is ready, willing and able to make a difference,” Herceg said.
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