Additional funding announced for UP SmartZones

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette The Houghton/Hancock MTEC SmartZone's base of operations near the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.

HOUGHTON — Upper Peninsula SmartZone grants have been approved for extension, providing more funds for exploring new ideas.

This January, the Michigan Strategic fund approved funding extensions for its 2015 and 2016 Business Incubator Gatekeeper grants the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) announced. A total of $874,299 was approved for SmartZones around the state.

In the Upper Peninsula funding extensions will go to the Houghton and Hancock SmartZone’s Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC), Marquette Smart Zone’s Innovate Marquette Enterprise Corporation (IMQT) and the Sault Ste. Marie’s SmartZone (SSMart), at Lake Superior State University.

These grants come on top of the 15-year base program funding extensions approved last year.

At MTEC, the grant will be used for experimental programs that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, explained Marilyn Clark, CEO of the MTEC SmartZone.

The previous grant was used to make connections with Finnish companies to draw investment into the area. The funds enabled SmartZone representatives to meet with Finnish incubators and attend a bioforestry conference in Finland.

“There’s a lot of interest from Finnish companies…about coming to Houghton,” Clark said.“The Finnish companies have tried Los Angeles, they’ve tried New York but…Finland is a rural country and having a foothold in the Midwest is much more comfortable for them.”

Because of that trip, local organizations are now working to start a FinnZone for collaboration between the Houghton-Hancock area and Finnish companies with more information on the project to be released in the coming weeks.

“This project is really a community collaboration but this grant allowed us to get the energy going just because we were able to make the trip to Finland,” said Clark. “We wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise.”

The latest grant extension will continue this work. As the exact amount and duration of funding is unknown at this point the plans are not yet finalized.

“We’re going to expand on the collaboration with Finland but (it) also, gives us some walking around money to play with some other ideas as well,” Clark said.