L'ANSE - Creating jobs and removing roadblocks for small businesses have been primary goals of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is visiting the Upper Peninsula this week - including a stop at L'Anse Manufacturing Tuesday morning - to find out how well the state is doing at achieving those goals.
"That's what this trip is really about - to get feedback and input about the things that we've done, and feedback and input about the things we still need to do in order to give people the best possible shot at success here in our state," said the 35-year-old second-in-command, who also made stops in Marquette, Munising and Manistique Tuesday.
Calley said the U.P. has a lot of untold success stories in manufacturing, particularly since it is often overshadowed by a recent emphasis on tourism and natural resources.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, left, talks with L’Anse Manufacturing President Mark Massicotte Tuesday at L’Anse Manufacturing. Calley’s visit was part of a three-day tour of the Upper Peninsula.
"One of the things I think is really important for people downstate to understand is that, sure, the U.P. has awesome tourism opportunities, timber ... and mining ... but then also manufacturing," said Calley, whose grandmother on his father's side is from Calumet. "People in the Upper Peninsula make so many things; particularly the western side is just a hotbed of manufacturing activity."
L'Anse Manufacturing serves a wide variety of industries, including medical, orthopedics, aviation, automotive, light industrial and military (no plant tours were given Tuesday due to confidential projects). It was honored as one of the 2011 "Michigan 50 Companies to Watch," an awards program sponsored by the Edward Lowe Foundation and presented by Michigan Celebrates Small Business.
"We have a niche business model and what we do is we focus on applying it to a multitude of markets. The real foundation to that is the work ethic of the region. ... Because of that, productivity is higher," L'Anse Manufacturing President Mark Massicotte said.
Calley was impressed with the growth of the stage-two business in L'Anse and its focus on community needs during his visit, which involved discussing ideas around a table with Massicotte, L'Anse Village Manager Bob LaFave and Marty Fittante from State Sen. Tom Casperson's (R-Escanaba) office.
"I'm so proud of the work that they're doing - the innovation and the expertise that is right here in this location is truly inspiring. It's no wonder they're seeing the type of growth they're experiencing here," Calley said.
But, while L'Anse Manufacturing has witnessed growth, Massicotte and Calley both agreed that the biggest roadblock still in place locally and throughout the state is workforce development.
"One common theme I've heard from top to bottom, east to west across the U.P., is that companies are hiring right now but they can't find people that have the right skills to fit the needs of the companies," Calley said.
He said the key to fixing that problem in the short term is better integrating education efforts with private sector workforce demands: "Getting input in terms of what type of skills are needed and using that to better our education policy ... will pay big dividends."
Calley said long-term efforts to improve businesses center around communication, energy and transportation infrastructure, which will ultimately play key roles in community involvement, too.
"We need schools, we need roads, we need all that infrastructure because it's part of our community. They're not turning a blind eye to that. I'm glad I heard that because I was very concerned," Massicotte said. "I was very appreciative that they would take time out of their schedule to come to a small business in rural America and ask my opinion. They weren't directing my questions. I had a list, three pages and we went through every one of them."
In addition to Tuesday's stops, Calley visited Menominee, Kingsford, Iron Mountain and Iron River on Monday before pulling in for a dinner with the Baraga County Republicans Monday night. Today, he will visit a material supplier in Gulliver and the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie during the tour, which primarily included visits to manufacturing companies.