InvestUP CEO shares vision for economic development

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Marty Fittante, CEO of InvestUP, speaks Wednesday at the first Keweenaw Alliance Breakfast.

HANCOCK — The new Keweenaw Alliance Breakfast began with a presentation on creating more economic development in the Upper Peninsula.

Marty Fittante, CEO of InvestUP, spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, the first co-hosted by the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance and Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce.

“What everybody wants is good teamwork between our economic development agencies in the area,” said Chamber Board member Brian Donnelly. “It’s something that we’re all very happy about.”

Fittante came to the organization from the state Senate, where he served as chief of staff for former Sen. Tom Casperson and legislative director for the Senate Transportation Committee.

“When this opportunity came along, it spoke to my heart for the same reasons that I so enjoyed the Legislature, and that was because I still get a chance to work on issues that are so important to the Upper Peninsula.”

The Marquette-based economic development organization has four objectives, Fittante said: •Promoting the U.P as a place to live and work.

•Addressing the talent shortage reported by companies.

•Retaining and developing of existing businesses.

•Attracting new businesses.

Compared to local economic development agencies, Fittante said, InvestUP can bring capital assets they might not otherwise be able to access. After the closure of the Ojibway prison — and the corresponding loss of 203 jobs in Gogebic County — InvestUP put together a $5 million supplemental resource program partnering with local banks and the Michigan Economic Development Council to encourage job creation by new or existing companies.

While the program has only resulted in two loans so far, it still highlights the opportunities available, Fittante said.

Invest UP also has relational assets, with board members including the presidents of Michigan Technological, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan universities and the CEO of timber company JM Longyear.

Fittante’s work with the Legislature also led to a connection with the Great Lakes Recovery Center, which is looking to help newly released prisoners transition back to the community. Every year, about 50 ex-convicts are looking to find jobs, Fittante said.

“By virtue of our board, we’re able to do some outreach throughout the Upper Peninsula and bring those types of individuals together. That really hopefully give us some intellectual capital as we look to solve these problems,” Fittante said.

The Upper Peninsula is also uniquely situated to take advantage of growth in cyberdevelopment space, Fittante said. A study by Amazon and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated increased access to digital tools will lead to $2.1 billion more in annual sales, $1.1 billion in value-added business, 8,600 jobs and $370 million in annual wages in Michigan alone.

Harnessing the strategic assets will require the “four Ps,” Fittante said: persistence, partnership, being “people of yes” and passion.

The U.P. is set apart by its strategic assets — workforce and natural resources, Fittante said. He pointed to the new uses for timber such as cross-laminated woods.

“It just chafes me that there’s a boxed water plant in Michigan, and it’s not in the Upper Peninsula. It’s in Grand Rapids,” he said.

Fittante urged people to reach out with any opportunities they see, and to make a point of talking up the Upper Peninsula.

“We have a lot of virtue and a lot of opportunity, and I don’t think we do a particularly good job selling that,” he said.