The largest county in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Marquette County serves as a retail and health care hub for the region. As such, Marquette County has all of the services and amenities to support economic growth and a good quality of life.
“We call it God’s country up here,” noted Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP) Chief Executive Officer Amy Clickner. Clickner acknowledges that the quality of life may not be a perfect fit for everyone, but for those who enjoy the outdoors and nature, Marquette County is the place to be. “With our incredible trail systems, lakes and four seasons, you can do anything from ski, snowmobile or fat tire bike in the winter, to kayak, fish and paddleboard in the summer.”
One of Marquette County’s greatest assets is its location. Marquette County enjoys eighty-three miles of beautiful shoreline making it home to beaches, outdoor activities, and picturesque views of Lake Superior: North America’s largest – and the world’s third-largest – freshwater lake.
“Our tourism is really cooking this year,” said Clickner. “Talking with hoteliers and restaurants, they are saying they’ve had record Julys, and they are on target for a record August. We have a lot of people coming, and we have a lot of great events.” Marquette County is not only family-friendly, but it is also business-friendly, with LSCP at the forefront.
In late 2017, the LSCP will be celebrating twenty years of marketing the county’s many assets and serving as a resource dedicated to promoting economic development. The partnership offers collaborative leadership, expertise, focus and integrity, as well as numerous services and supports to encourage the additional growth of and investment in local businesses.
LSCP is accredited by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and is composed of businesses, organizations, community leaders, and government representatives. The board of directors is representative of labor, industry, business, education, government, non-profits, as well as media.
The LSCP came into existence as a direct response to economic crisis. Previously called the Lake Superior Jobs Coalition, the organization had been dormant for some time. In 1995, new life was breathed into the organization to address Marquette County’s loss of the K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base. It was a devastating blow to lose 10,000 people and the economic centerpiece of the community.
Though the air force base closed, Marquette County gained an economic development organization that was willing to champion new growth and development initiatives. In 1997, the LSCP formally came to be and today the organization continues to provide a legislative voice, offering programs and initiatives that support and strengthen Marquette County.
The LSCP gained momentum quite quickly. The county commissioners made the critical decision to move the airport to the old air force base to stimulate growth by taking advantage of the community’s logistical assets. The airport benefits greatly from being home to one of the longest runways in the country. It continues to be an area of focus, as over eighty thousand people pass through its doors each year.
“We see our airport as needing to grow as an impetus for attracting some additional manufacturers, so we’re working on the infrastructure pieces more in the long term,” addressed Clickner. LSCP raised funds and retained Trillium Consultants to conduct a study to examine air service and customs demand.
“Retaining and growing our air service here is critical,” Clickner explained, of the need for the study. “What it was able to do was provide us with information. Now we’re visiting with airlines, not just to retain the two we have but in hopes of growing.” This summer, a second flight has been added, and flights to Minneapolis will be offered to start in 2017.
Much of the former air force base was purchased by Telkite and became the Telkite Technology Park, a 1.5 million-square-foot facility. The facility boasts high-tech office, industrial, aviation, and warehousing space, in addition to 1,500 developable acres adjacent to rail, highway, and aviation services.
“The airport has been developing more into an industrial park with some great companies, manufacturers like Potlatch, which is a saw mill. There is also a medical device company, a biomass carbon facility, and a metal extruder,” Clickner listed, highlighting Potlatch Lumber, Frontier Medical Devices, Biogenic Reagents, and Superior Extrusion. Other notable companies include AMR Eagle, an aircraft maintenance provider; Global Response, a customer care center; Beijing West International, an automotive parts testing facility; P & L Development, a tooling company; and Telkite Enterprises LLC.
The partnership has set out to diversify the local economy to insulate the community from future economic crises, while simultaneously maintaining and improving the quality of life for both residents and businesses.
LSCP maintains a truly regional focus that is built around public-private partnership and collaboration. “It’s funny how, in a crisis situation, people are able to pull together, work together across lines in a sense, and the parochialism is gone, knowing in order to survive, we need to figure this out,” acknowledged Clickner.
“We merged the area chambers of commerce, the economic development corporation, everything under one umbrella,” she explained. “We’re private sector funded and private sector driven for the most part.” LSCP is eighty percent privately funded and twenty percent publicly funded.
Its membership is comprised of investors of various sizes across the county, and the County of Marquette also plays a major role as a public sector partner. “They deserve recognition,” Clickner stated. “They continue to support economic development and support it in a private-sector-led arena.”
Clickner believes that the biggest thing that the partnership does is not a program but one of its founding principles: “Collaboration and communication. As we work on projects and as things come up, it’s being able to get all the right people to the table to make sure the projects are moving forward and smoothly.”
Major employers in Marquette County include UP Health System, Cliffs Natural Resources, Northern Michigan University, and Eagle Mine, as well as the government and education sectors.
As a retail hub, the county is home to Kohl’s, Pier 1, Target, Michaels, Lowes, Best Buy, TJ Maxx, Walgreens, as well as a variety of other retail and dining offerings. Clickner noted that Meijer is on its way as well.
“There is a billion – and that’s a B – a billion dollars of construction projects going on in Marquette County right now, and obviously the most highlighted is our new hospital,” stated Clickner. The $300 million, 265-bed, state-of-the-art UP Health System-Marquette facility is being built in the community, further emphasizing its status as a regional healthcare hub.
Another significant development that will substantially support the hospital investment and Marquette County’s role as a healthcare centre is the Liberty Way project. This $30 million investment is a project of The Veridea Group.
“That is just a great brownfield redevelopment,” said Clickner. The first of project’s three buildings is complete and is dedicated to office and commercial space. “The second phase is Staybridge Extended Stay Hotel which is really perfect because you can look out the window of the hotel and see the new hospital being built. There will be a real synergy.”
“I always tell people, if you haven’t been here in five or six years, you’ve got to come down to the downtown, because it is so vibrant. It’s changed so much. It’s liveable, walkable, and then this Liberty Way project is extending the downtown even further, so we’re seeing some other buildings being rehabbed,” Clickner said.
The vibrancy in Marquette County grows exponentially when classes at Northern Michigan University (NMU) are in full swing as the education system in Marquette County supports economic growth. Understanding that talent is one of the biggest concerns facing business today, LSCP and NMU have joined to support workforce development.
“We’re working with them to launch a campaign called Come Back Up. We know that retaining workers is happening here, and the retraining of workers is happening here with organizations like MichiganWorks! What we believe is missing is the reintegration of people to the area,” explained Clickner. The partnership communicates with alumni and students to better understand local retention.
“We believe jobs are what prevents past residents from moving back, but we don’t know that, so that’s what we’re trying to figure out. But what if it’s housing or an amenity that’s not here that they wish was, something we can fix,” Clickner said.
“Entrepreneurship is alive and well here, so we make sure we have all of those resources in-house because we see that as very important,” Clickner stated. As a result of the multi-faceted support provided to the business community, the opportunities are truly endless here.
“We’re economic development, but we’re generalists basically,” Clickner explained of LSCP’s efforts. “We could be working with a company that manufactures widgets, a service company, or someone who wants to bring a natural gas facility here. We’re not going to be experts on everything, but we have experts at the other end of the phone, in a sense.”
Marquette County is facing a new challenge in the loss of an area mine and four hundred jobs on which community members relied. “We’re working collaboratively with all of our partners at the local, state, and federal level, because we want to retain as many of those families as possible,” said Clickner.
“We will get over this hurdle,” she added. “It’s not always roses in economic development. You are going to have your bumps. You’re going to have your ups and downs, and without being able to overcome those in an organized and coordinated fashion, it’s just chaos.”
Marquette County and LSCP continue to focus on planned, strategic development. New developments such as the hospital and the Liberty Way project are what Clickner refers to as an economic developer’s dream.
“It’s being able to plan for that growth and work together to make sure it meets the needs of both the residents and on the commercial side.” And the LSCP is well-equipped and positioned to do just that.