Where Dreams Come Home

Roscommon County, MI
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Roscommon County is part of an area known as Michigan’s other great lakes. It is home to Houghton Lake, Michigan’s largest inland lake of 22,000 acres with thirty-two miles of shoreline; spring-fed Higgins Lake, which has been ranked the sixth-most beautiful lake in the world, and fish-rich Lake St. Helen. Adding to its picturesque lakes and 203,326 acres of state-owned land, Roscommon County offers the services and amenities required to support an exceptional quality of life.
“One of the things I’ve noticed in visiting businesses is that this is an area where people wish they could live, so there are many that have taken advantage of that opportunity,” shared Adele Woskobojnik, who works with the tourism bureau and serves on the RCED board of directors.

“We have a number of service-related or tourism-related business,” she said. “These are either individuals who have come home or they have visited here, and they want to live and work here. I have a friend who says that Roscommon County is a very special place where dreams come home, and that’s really what we’re finding in the area.”

There is a strong push in Roscommon County to, “cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit in the community,” said Erine Adams, workforce development coordinator with Kirtland College and RCED board member. One such initiative is its small business incubator, which will offer resources and support to the local business community to facilitate growth.

There are support mechanisms – including mentorship opportunities – being offered to businesses in Roscommon County. “Small businesses, start-ups, family businesses, consultants: it will have the mentorship and it will provide a space for people that need it,” said Rosalie Myers, RCED coordinator.

Space is not an issue for Roscommon County as there is an industrial business park, as well as available spaces to suit many needs. ‘Dreams for Sale’ is a recent initiative that has been adopted to try to fill those spaces. The county is offering tours to interested business owners and investors. This program has enjoyed early success and shows great promise for the future.

“We get challenged in this region,” Adams said. “It’s unfortunate because our population density is so low. I honestly think that it’s driven us to be more resilient and utilize our resources better… It is actually a testament to our collaborative efforts because we realized that without each other we were not going to succeed.” The addition of the Arauco sawmill operations’ 250 jobs to the region is proof of the county’s success.

“We’ve worked really hard to stay true to state trends and employment trends and entrepreneurial trends, so we understand that we’re not going to necessarily attract an employer that has 5,000 employees, but we’re trying to cultivate the environment that would encourage small business.”

Located just north Michigan’s geographic center, off Interstate 75 and US highway 127, Roscommon County’s natural setting and collaborative spirit offer unbridled potential. Interstate and highway accessibility, rail service, air service, a transit authority, good infrastructure and proximity to larger centers all work together, making this an attractive place to live and invest.

“The focus is to make sure that we’ve done our housekeeping, that our communities are clean and inviting, showing off what benefits we have to these residents here as we anticipate its going to attract new residents and additional ancillary jobs,” noted Adams.

The county is home to Lear Corporation, as well as other major employers in the government, education and tourism sectors. To be sure Roscommon County has everything a business needs to succeed, it has undertaken workforce development initiatives to address any skills gaps that could potentially hinder growth and investment.

Brenda Bachelder is also a member of the RCED board of directors and represents MichiganWorks! She works closely with the RCED and other partners to deliver workforce development programs and training incentives that are available to new and existing businesses in Roscommon County.

“The skilled trades training fund will be coming available shortly,” said Bachelder. “We also have some local incentives such as on-the-job training reimbursement. We have some incumbent worker dollars to train existing workforce to upgrade their skills. We look at partnering with our local community colleges to put together some customized training.”

Kirtland Community College has been a leading proponent of workforce development in Roscommon County. Adams is also the steward of the Michigan New Jobs Training Program which is another incentive that is dedicated to improving wage scales in the area.

Kirtland Community College also encourages and educates local businesses on the benefits of strategic planning. “We find many small businesses don’t have time to do strategic planning, so we’re going to work one-to-one to try to provide some services for them,” explained Adams. “Kirtland is open to any training necessary to help.”

Efforts are also being undertaken to engage with youth in what are called Talent Tours, to showcase opportunities in the manufacturing sector, as well as other career opportunities in the region. As a way to improve youth participation rates in both community and economic matters, a young professionals’ group has also taken shape.

The regional small business development center will begin to have a regular presence in the community on Tuesdays to provide small business services and support Bachelder noted. “We’ve been a little underserved in that area in the past, and we’re just trying to get these employers to embrace the training incentives that are available.”

“We also offer what we call Boost Your Business workshops, and we are working with our smaller businesses that don’t yet have a presence on the web,” Myers added. “We are encouraging them to have a website. We’d like everyone to be accessible.” These services are offered at no cost to the business community.

“I have figures from the Tourism Bureau: visits to our website have increased three hundred percent since last year!” said Woskobojnik. This growth is correlated to Roscommon County’s four-season tourism industry. By having an online presence, the many locally owned and operated businesses that support the sector can benefit greatly.

Much of the tourist draw is centered around the county’s lakes and its location in the middle of state forests. Roscommon’s natural assets provide the perfect backdrop for fishing, hunting, birding, boating, sailing, swimming, skiing, golfing, hiking, biking and snowmobiling. Many visitors and residents enjoy its impressive trail system.

“We have two hundred miles of groomed snowmobile trails,” Woskobojnik said. “Those two hundred miles connect to Michigan’s six thousand miles of trail, so we are connected to the whole state. We’re a good hub for people to come play. It’s very reasonable to vacation here, stay here, with our room rates.”

Visitors also enjoy the Roscommon County Zoo as well as festivals such as the Bluegill Festival and the Tip-up-town Winter Festival. A big event in the county is the Fireman’s Memorial, an event that has been held since 1979. There are also shops, restaurants and other family-friendly things to do in the county.

Roscommon County has fostered a strong sense of community. Residents are warm, friendly, inviting and work together to make Roscommon County that special place where dreams do in fact come home. Frank “T-Bear” Thibert (1945 – 2016) was a local resident and 2015’s County Person of the Year who exemplified those qualities.

Thibert moved to Houghton Lake from Canada in 1968 and quickly became a well-known part of the community. A talented musician who brought people together through music, Thibert was very active in the community.

Thibert drove mini-bus for the Roscommon County Transit Authority, was active as assistant chief of the Roscommon Township Fire Department and executive director of the Special Response Team, assistant to the director of Roscommon County Emergency Management, member of the Roscommon County Sheriff Posse and a first responder and driver for the Houghton Lake Ambulance Service.

Thibert’s dreams came home in Roscommon County, like those of many others who live here. This is where people come together towards a common goal, collaborating to strengthen the social and economic fabric of the community.

It’s a place you truly have to see and experience for yourself. Spring, summer, winter and fall, Roscommon County welcomes you, offering you a place where you can make a living and build a life: just be forewarned, once you get there, you may never want to leave!



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