L'ANSE - Dozens of citizens from all over Baraga County, including small business owners and government representatives, met during a public meeting Thursday afternoon to brainstorm economic development possibilities, a key focus for a county with an 18.3 percent unemployment rate.
Marilyn Clark, CEO of Michigan Technological University's SmartZone business incubator, facilitated discussion at the Baraga County Memorial Hospital conference room with a presentation entitled "Baraga County - Great Opportunities."
"What you want to talk about is your strategic plan, what you have, what are your assets, what can you do hear to build on. I think you really have three things: tourism, manufacturing, government," Clark said. "You've got a three-legged stool in terms of opportunities. Three legs makes it very strong. I think you have some assets here to build on."
In tourism, Clark highlighted the Ojibwa Casino, Baraga State Park and waterfront on Keweenaw Bay. In manufacturing, even though Terex Handlers moved away, Baraga County boasts CertainTeed, Pettibone Traverse Lift, LLC and L'Anse Manufacturing, among others. In terms of government, in additional to local units, the county has the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility.
Clark said she often drove through Baraga while growing up in Chassell, and she highlighted the historical progress she noticed has been made throughout the county in tourism, agriculture, gaming and several other areas.
Baraga County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Massicotte prefaced Clark's presentation by asking what county residents wanted to see the county become.
"We've been collaborating with Ontonagon, the Baraga Chamber and the Keweenaw Chamber about how we can collaborate together. So, instead of being the gateway to Houghton, who do we want to be? What do we want to be as a brand" Massicotte asked.
He encouraged attendees to consider how Baraga County can get tourists to stop in the county instead of just drive through it.
"I brought up a concept of what my three-legged stool is," Massicotte said in reference to Clark's analogy. "It's Marquette, Escanaba and Houghton. Where are we at in respect to that? We're right underneath that three-legged stool, so how do we capitalize on that?"
A focus of areas of improvement included continued collaboration, better county-wide customer service and a focus on maximizing the extensive resources already available.
A county-wide website is currently in the site map development stage, and it will include separate pages for government entities, organizations and businesses, all in one place. BCMH, the host of the meeting, also has a public input survey on its website, bcmh.org.
No decisions were reached at the meeting, but discussion was started and future meetings will be planned to delve deeper into county-wide strategic planning. Clark emphasized that while progress has been made, Baraga County needs to continue forging ahead.
"You have to keep changing, you have to keep improving, you have to keep moving ahead, almost to stay in the same place," she said. "It is not acceptable anywhere to just be satisfied with what you have today. You've made a lot of progress in Baraga and L'Anse since the 1960s and 70s, but you can't be satisfied with it."