Ontonagon EDC wants state support

Vanessa Dietz/Daily Mining Gazette From left, Ontonagon Village Downtown Development Authority President Dan Sullivan, and Ontonagon County Economic Development Authority members Ted Baird and Alan Ralph chat following Wednesday’s EDC meeting.

ONTONAGON — The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) is asking local economic development boards to consider adopting an amended agreement updating its administrative duties.

In a conference call with the Ontonagon County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Wednesday afternoon, MEDC staffers Brad Heffner and Amy Berglund reviewed the changes.

“Most of these amendments are housekeeping,” said new EDC member Pat Tucker, who replaced Harold Amos.

While EDC members agreed they would likely grant the routine request at the next meeting, questions arose about the MEDC’s inactivity in the county.

During the call, Tucker noted the MEDC reported spending $180 million — $67 million of which came from public funds — to create 1,166 jobs in the Upper Peninsula over the past four years, representing an investment of nearly $155,000 in each job.

“They’re giving away a lot of money,” Tucker said, adding the state doesn’t even track if the jobs are maintained in the long term, yet none of it was spent in Ontonagon County.

“It’s nice to be able to bitch,” Tucker said later of the depressing statistics he’d cited.

Berglund had said she checks back on the jobs six months and 12 months afterward, and clarified in her job as the MEDC’s regional business development manager, she works directly and solely with U.P. manufacturers which are sorely lacking in Ontonagon these days.

“We would certainly like to change that, definitely,” Berglund said of the MEDC’s lack of economic action in Ontonagon County. “There’s not a whole lot of manufacturing in Ontonagon.”

EDC member Ted Baird wondered what other help the MEDC could provide to benefit the county.

“Who works with everything else?” he asked.

Berglund responded with describing the MEDC executive board, a 20-member group appointed by the governor that “directs the day-to-day operations of the MEDC.”

Tucker asked how many executive board members were from the U.P.

One member currently lives and works in the U.P.: Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson.

The members currently serve eight-year terms, but the requested amendment would change them to four-year terms, after which members could seek reappointment.

EDC leader Sue Preiss said one person is close to meeting with its loan committee, according to Dale Cook, of Northern Initiatives who works with potential entrepreneurs to develop county businesses. Preiss said Cook also sent an application to another person, who had yet to respond.

At the request of member Skip Schulz, the EDC will support Highland Copper’s test drilling in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Gogebic County. Schulz will draft a letter to the company and send it to board members for potential amendments and eventual approval.

Schulz also proposed establishing a two-year vocational college and dorm in the former Maple Manor (and Ontonagon Hospital), and the old junior high and elementary school across the street.

“Our area is considered as an ‘economically depressed area,’ thus we are killing two birds with one stone,” Schulz wrote to the board regarding the idea. “We’re providing an important educational institution for post high-school students that want to go into service-oriented careers, and we are bringing an industry and jobs to an economically depressed area.”

Long-time EDC member Tom Poisson advised while the idea sounded good, creating a college was a daunting venture, and seeking an existing institution to set up shop would be more feasible.

In other news, the EDC learned its fund balance at the end of March was just $7,725.58, but expects some revenue from dock activity in the summer.

The EDC will meet next at 4 p.m. on July 12 at the Ontonagon Township Office where Wednesday’s meeting was held. Poisson noted the first meeting of the EDC was held in the same room decades ago.