Authenticity and Potential on Michigan’s West Shore

Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Situated along the shoreline of Lake Michigan in Mason County, located between Traverse City and Grand Rapids on Michigan’s West Shore, the Ludington and Scottville Area offers authenticity and boundless potential.
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As a center of growth, the Ludington and Scottville Area has been careful not to grow simply for growth’s sake – and for a relatively small community, its multifaceted development efforts and growth strategy are quite impressive.

Much of the growth taking place in the Ludington and Scottville Area is attributable to the collaborative approach being taken by stakeholders from the government, education and private sectors. At the heart of these development efforts is the Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce and its many partners.

Kathy Maclean, President/CEO of the Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce described the organization as, “A one-stop shop for tourists, our local businesses and our local community.”

With its partners by its side – which include West Shore Community College, K-12 schools, the local convention and visitors’ bureau, private foundations like the Pennies From Heaven Foundation, The United Way, Local College Access Network (LCAN), Michigan Works, The Right Place and Talent 2025 out of Grand Rapids, and many more – the Chamber is approaching growth and development from multiple angles.

“Economic development is so multifaceted: you have the infrastructure – the roads and wastewater, brownfield site, and similar – whereas the Chamber and partners are looking to do more of the intangibles in terms of quality of life and how we can make Mason County a place where people want to live, work and play. That’s the ultimate goal,” said Crystal Young, Director of the Business Opportunity Center and Chair of Manufacturing and Technologies, West Shore Community College.

This sentiment was echoed by Maclean, who said, “We really feel like our role is to address the quality of life initiatives and look at attracting and retaining a workforce, from the hospitality and service industry all the way through to manufacturing, doctors, CEOs. Our membership is diverse because we’re a small town.”

The Chamber of Commerce serves all aspects of the community from workforce development, attraction and retention efforts, to efforts to secure housing options, to transportation issues, childcare, and anything else that can serve as a barrier to employment, as well as personal and professional growth and development. “We’re looking at different ways we can attract and retain talent and not fight the wildfire, so to speak, but prevent the fire,” said Young, referring to the nationwide challenge to find skilled labor and talent across industries and sectors, but primarily in the manufacturing sector.

To this end, The Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce, alongside its partners, is utilizing demand planning to obtain data that can be analyzed to assess the talent needs of the local community and region and devise a plan to address those needs. In doing so, it can better leverage available tools, resources and partnerships locally and in the broader region. To better facilitate the workforce development network that has been created locally and regionally, the Chamber is considering hiring a workforce development coordinator to help it actualize on its priorities to strengthen the talent pipeline in the area.

The Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce has also identified the need for leadership training and is working toward developing a leadership program to ensure that local leadership on a community and economic level isn’t a skill that is being lost with attrition.

“Long term, we want to be sure that we’re being responsive to our business community and our community in general and just making sure we have the capacity to address those needs as they come along and that we’re forward-thinking in the future,” said Brandy Henderson Miller, Vice-President of the Chamber of Commerce and Executive Director of the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Michigan was the first state to go through the Talent Pipeline Management Academy through the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation which is designed to help Chambers across the country to execute a stronger talent pipeline. Discussing the efforts of The Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Young noted, “They developed a curriculum, a strategy, to develop a supply chain of talent, so we had someone selected from the region to attend that and bring that back here so we can all start developing the same language and get on the same page as to what exactly are workforce needs are.”

Further to these efforts, West Shore Community College is expanding some of its infrastructure to better support the local workforce needs of the community. The county received the last Promise Zone in the State of Michigan which means that full-time residents of Mason County have the opportunity to obtain free tuition to the college.

The college has acquired new buildings and will be turning previously unused space into a Regional Public Safety Training Center that will offer corrections and criminal justice programming to start, but will add EMS and paramedic training, as well as fire safety. As Young explained, “This is something that will not only service our local district but the entire region.”

The area also benefited from the Regional Prosperity Initiative that saw over $1 million put back into the region to support infrastructure and workforce development initiatives. A great deal of funding is also available to those who have a viable business idea, and there are numerous resources to help get those businesses off the ground.

Indeed, a great deal of support is available to small businesses and entrepreneurs in the community. The area is rich in entrepreneurial spirit and a network of support has been established in the community, which is having outstanding results.

“Being a small community, this year we actually awarded over $60 000 in total prizes for startups to grow our small entrepreneur community,” said Talent and Entrepreneur Development Coordinator Thomas Hinman of the impressive financial support that is generated through various contests each year.

Hinman highlighted the Momentum Business Plan Competition, where over the past four years 20 businesses have participated, 17 of which are still growing, expanding and thriving thanks to the exposure from the event and the resources and support they have received.

Another initiative that is new to the community is 5×5 night, where five businesses pitch a five-minute idea and five judges award the winner $5000. This is the first time the 5×5 event has been held in the Ludington and Scottville Area, though it has been a success in Grand Rapids. The initiative is supported by the Epworth Association and the Epworth Church Assembly.

Hinman himself is a very in-demand individual in the region as he supports the Chamber of Commerce and the college, which takes him into Mason County, Manistee County and Oceana County to work with entrepreneurs to foster and strengthen their vision. He is also part of a team that is working on developing a curriculum that will support small businesses and startups long into the future.

From entrepreneurs and small businesses taking off, to new breweries and restaurants that are quickly causing a charming downtown core to reach its capacity, there are many examples of the growth and prosperity that is taking place in the Ludington and Scottville Area. Maclean shared her excitement about the addition of affordable housing units in the heart of the community. “The Bowling Alley Block development broke ground in September and that is going to provide 60 units of housing,” she shared. “And there are two other developers who are now looking to get housing projects here. One will utilize an old train depot and the other will utilize an old shoe factory.”

In terms of job growth, major local employer UACJ Automotive Whitehall Industries, Inc. invested $29 million into an expansion that created an additional 128 new jobs and ProAct Services Corporation expanded by making an $18 million expansion that added 30 people to its operations. Mercy Health Care is another economic pillar of the community that expanded recently, proving that growth is taking place across diverse industries and sectors. In fact, over the last five years, Mason County has been a leader in the creation of new jobs in the young business category (less than five years old) regionally and statewide.

While there are countless opportunities for residents to find work and live the life they have always dreamed, the area is also rich in tourism, with visitors who are drawn to the natural beauty of the beaches and the recreation afforded by Lake Michigan. Ideally situated, the natural endowments of the area not only support a good quality of life and tourism, they support business and industry. The region has the benefit of access and connectivity thanks to highway infrastructure, having a deep water port makes it ideal for the movement of goods, and a strong local community helps local business to thrive.

Though it is relatively small, the Ludington and Scottville Area has all the services and amenities, the arts and culture, the employment opportunities and the growth potential of a larger center, all with a consciously preserved small town feel. Thanks to efforts of the Chamber and its partners, growth has not been at the expense of community.

“We’re not growing for the sake of growth but growing in an authentic way, because when it comes from a place of authenticity, you know it’s just going to turn out right,” said Young, and the Ludington and Scottville Area continues to demonstrate this to be true, as it is a place for authenticity and potential to flourish along Michigan’s West Shore.

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