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Baraga Cty. business forum held in Baraga

August 15, 2012
By STEPHEN ANDERSON - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

L'ANSE - Six weeks after breaking into three primary subcommittees, more than 20 people attended the Baraga County Chamber of Commerce's third community forum Tuesday to check on the progress of those subcommittees and refine their future objectives.

Jason Schneider from the Marquette City Commission, who had facilitated a June 26 forum that led to the creation of communications, tourism and hospital re-use subcommittees, returned to the Baraga County Memorial Hospital conference room to guide discussion again.

"The subcommittees have been working for the last six weeks to grab onto some of the 'low-hanging fruit' (ideas that can easily be acted on) that's available," Schneider said by way of introduction to the group, which included some first-time attendees.

Article Photos

Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Marquette city commissioner Jason Schneider guides discussion at the Baraga County Chamber of Commerce’s third community forum Tuesday in L’Anse.

Each subcommittee then presented a brief overview of what it had accomplished during the last six weeks, and Schneider and the group helped create another set of objectives to be accomplished during the next six weeks. Another forum is expected in mid-October.

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College President Debbie Parrish presented first on behalf of the hospital re-use committee, which examined possible uses for the former and still vacant BCMH facility in downtown L'Anse.

Since the last forum, the KBOCC board decided to move forward with acquiring the building, and paperwork is the only thing standing in the way of completing the transfer of ownership from BCMH to the KBOCC.

"The college really sat down and looked at the space," said Parrish, who pointed out that of the 60,000 square feet in the facility, 15,000 feet is hallway space. "As we went through the building for the third time, we got dimensions for the rooms and planned out each one of our departments and services. Guess what we found? There's not enough space for all of our programs, let alone bringing in other people, because of our future plans."

Previous plans had assumed the KBOCC would not need all the space, but with the addition of fine art, Native American studies and a business programs, plus potential future additions such as culinary arts, all the space is needed. But that doesn't mean the rest of the community can't benefit, according to Parrish.

"We're still not looking at shutting the door," she said. "We want to be able to work with everyone in the community who wants to be a part of that growth and expansion of the college and the community."

After Parrish's update, county commissioner Bill Menge presented on behalf of the tourism subcommittee, which had explored possible opportunities with the Pure Michigan campaign.

However, the $33,000 price tag to take part in the state's largest advertising campaign was seen as a roadblock - until options surfaced at Tuesday's forum.

Partnership opportunities were discussed to divide the $33,000 among several groups or even counties, and free advertising opportunities were also mentioned through the Baraga County Convention and Visitors Bureau and its connection to the website.

"Might that be something that would really be low-hanging fruit to make sure that businesses in the community know how to (get on and what to do?" asked Debbie Stouffer from the chamber of commerce. "That's more manageable than raising $33,000."

The tourism subcommittee also discussed improving signage in the county, which partially overlapped with the communications subcommittee's idea of installing two electronic signs along U.S. 41.

Ron Miaso from Michigan Works said the two signs would likely cost $60,000 to $70,000, but the Michigan Economic Development Corporation had provided a list of 20 potential funding sources. Baraga village council president Wendell Dompier is working with Baraga and L'Anse village managers on possible locations and logistics of sign installation.

"This overlapping is good because it's bringing us to a point where everyone agrees we need to be," Menge said.

Chamber member Laurie Sterbenz presented on behalf of the communications subcommittee, whose primary focus was a new countywide website, which is discussed at length in a separate Daily Mining Gazette article today.

Another forum will be scheduled in about six weeks to help hold subcommittees accountable and make sure brainstormed ideas become tangible action items.



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