Incumbent sees regional economic prospects retaining young workers

HOUGHTON — When Houghton County Board candidates talk about the next two years of the county, only one can say with certainty he will be one of the people shaping it.

Commissioner Tom Tikkanen is running unopposed for the District 1 seat, which includes Calumet and Hancock townships.

“The opportunity to serve Houghton County as part of the County Board is an awesome opportunity, and one that I don’t take lightly,” he said. “I do devote my energies for it.”

Tikkanen described the proposed Houghton County jail addition as a “very carefully, well-thought-out plan” that would minimize the cost to taxpayers.

The condition of the jail could compel legal action, forcing the county to upgrade soon at more cost, he said.

“I do believe that we can accomplish what we need to right now with this proposal and it will be in compliance with the state mandates, because if we try to get too ambitious and try to raise people’s taxes too much, it won’t be supported,” he said.

Tikkanen said he is willing to sit down and listen to people with ideas for a stand-alone facility. Long-term, he said, the county might be in a better financial position for that. Through the efforts of local municipalities and entities such as the MTEC SmartZone, he said, he’s seeing more “help wanted” signs and companies offering a livable wage. This increased demand for workers could reverse the trend of Copper Country children leaving the area to find jobs, he said.

A member of the Upward Talent Council, Tikkanen recently spoke with the Upper Peninsula director of Michigan Works! to discuss ways to publicize the area’s opportunities for yooper expatriates.

“I’m not sure that all of those folks are aware of the turnaround that’s occurring here economically,” he said. “When that begins to happen, that drives revenues up automatically. Our communities are going to have more funds for maintaining our streets, our infrastructure in support of our schools as well.”

One factor hampering the area’s economic prospects is high electrical prices. He touted the improvements in solar technology and Finnish innovations in wood-generated technology. He also foresees progress in loosening net metering restrictions to give people generating power more equitable compensation in selling electricity back to the grid.

“I think there’s probably some reasonable arrangement that could be made to compensate people who are generating more power than they’re using,” he said. “I think our utility providers are coming around and not just shutting down that conversation.”

The county can also provide leadership in solid waste recycling, Tikkanen said. It’s working with the Copper Country Recycling Initiative to provide better service at the Houghton County Transfer Station.

The county should also offer options to receive and dispose of hazardous household waste, as well as old tires, he said.

“You used to be able to get rid of that for a couple of bucks,” he said. “That’s $10 a tire now. We need to be proactive and deal with that circumstance very quickly, or we’re going to wind up with lots of tires scattered across the countryside out in our forests and fields.”

Tikkanen has been active in the real estate industry as a certified general appraiser and real estate broker for 32 years. He also spent 10 years as the executive director of Main Street Calumet, which he said provided many opportunities for professional training for community redevelopment.

Tikkanen is married with five children and is also a “proud grandparent.”

“We wish more of them could live locally,” he said.