L'ANSE - The Baraga County Chamber of Commerce brought a facilitator to its second community forum Tuesday at Baraga County Memorial Hospital to make sure brainstormed ideas became concrete action items for improving the county.
Instead of simply opening the floor to discussion, Jason Schneider from the Marquette City Commission had the 18 attendees introduce themselves, then break into focus groups of three people for 20-minute discussions. Each group presented tangible ideas, three major action areas emerged, subcommittees were formed and a follow-up plan was adopted.
"There's no horizons for what you can do if you're willing to work together," Schneider told the group, comprised of government officials, business owners and county residents from a variety of backgrounds. "I try to take people a little beyond where they're normally comfortable. ... I was really quite excited to be invited up here to find out what challenges are here as well as what opportunities may exist."
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Marquette City Commissioner Jason Schneider facilitates a community forum Tuesday at Baraga County Memorial Hospital as Baraga County Chamber of Commerce Vice President Debbie Stouffer transcribes the ideas generated for improving Baraga County.
After each group of three presented its ideas to the whole group, and the ideas were written on a large flip pad of paper, three main ideas emerged: tourism, education (primarily related to use of the former BCMH building) and communication.
"We feel this is an area we do not promote," said Leann Davis, member of the L'Anse village council.
Schneider asked what the "low hanging fruit," or idea that could easily be acted on, was, and the group decided a plan could be adopted to better market the area as a destination choice for tourists - instead of simply a place to drive through on the way further north to Houghton and Keweenaw counties.
"We're spending millions of dollars a year in the Pure Michigan campaign. I think Baraga County should get behind that," added Scott Dianda, candidate for Michigan's 110th district in the House of Representatives.
"There's a really good piece of low-hanging fruit," Schneider said.
County commissioner Bill Menge will head the subcommittee tasked with acting on tourism suggestions. Schneider will follow up with each subcommittee, and the group as a whole will be expected to report on progress at a meeting to be set in six weeks.
On the subject of the old hospital building, several ideas were discussed, but more financial information needs to be finalized by the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, who is looking to acquire the facility.
"We've met with the counties, the villages, other interested parties ... to look at options for some of the unused space, but we haven't really made that collaboration yet," said Debbie Parrish, KBOCC president, who will head up the education subcommittee developed at Tuesday's forum. "We have to continue to collaborate."
Communication was also an important topic discussed at the forum, and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Economic Developer Gregg Nominelli will head that subcommittee.
"Here's the strength: If people know there's something going on that benefits someone, this community shows up. They will support activities locally," said Mark Massicotte, Chamber of Commerce president and communications subcommittee member. "Initial conversation has been strong in multiple groups, and this can be used as a tool to allow all these independent groups to find ways to collaborate."
A countywide website is in the works, and the group discussed better ways to both collaborate internally and reach out externally - including social media like Facebook.
Several people also mentioned better, more visible signage and better promotion of the county's recreational trail system, which includes an off-road vehicle connector route from Baraga State Park to Twin Lakes State Park.
"You may have the world's most wonderful trails, but if you don't communicate that to people outside, those trails are just wonderful trails with not a lot of people on them," Massicotte said.
He added that while Schneider's forum facilitation was "very unconventional," it was effective and allowed everyone to participate.
"The community is ready for change," Massicotte said.
A follow-up forum will be scheduled in about six weeks.