MARQUETTE — More than 100 business and community leaders from across the Upper Peninsula gathered in May at the Upper Peninsula CEO Summit in Marquette.
The inaugural event, hosted by InvestUP, served as a setting for CEOs of the region’s leading companies and university presidents to develop strategies that move the economy forward. InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization focused on driving economic growth across the region.
InvestUP Vice Chair Karyn Olsson, CEO of Marketing Department Inc., framed the event as a chance to discuss the region’s greatest opportunities and celebrate its strengths.
“We are all doing business in unique times,” Olsson said. “From reshoring to remote work, U.P. businesses are faced with new challenges and opportunities. With great talent, world-class universities, abundant natural resources, and world-class recreation, the region has advantages for growth and relocation. More than ever, InvestUP is focused on specific strategic opportunities to maximize ROI to our region.”
To start, InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante laid out the purpose of the event, framing the challenges that the U.P. faces — loss of population and a lack of infrastructure needed to increase population — and noted the need to increase housing across the U.P.
Fittante challenged the state to better align its programming opportunities with the needs of the region, saying “one size does not fit all” and that “the U.P., while poised for growth, needs policymakers to recognize that the Upper Peninsula has unique challenges that need right sized and right intended policies to be addressed.”
Following Fittante’s opening remarks, summit attendees received socio-economic insights from the first-of-its-kind “U.P. Business and Resident Perspectives Survey,” delivered by Richard Czuba, CEO of the Glengariff Group — a national full-service research and polling firm. Highlights from the U.P. resident survey, in November 2021 and April 2022, include:
— More than half of business owners expect their performance next year to be stronger, with 40.5% expecting to expand their businesses.
Specific opportunities for economic growth include:
— Business and talent attraction
— Increased housing
— Key infrastructure improvements
— Workforce training
— Increased childcare services
— Expansion of high-speed broadband internet
Almost half of survey respondents said they know someone who is interested in relocating to the U.P.
Guest speaker Teri List, independent director of the board of directors at Microsoft Corp., offered a strong endorsement of the purpose of the summit, which was to bring U.P. leaders together to answer U.P. challenges, through virtual remarks. She encouraged business leaders to come together to create solutions that make the region a better place to live and work. A graduate of Northern Michigan University, List previously served as the executive vice president and chief financial officer at Gap Inc.
Presenter Matt Johnson, manager of external relations at Eagle Mine, discussed “The Economic Impact and Opportunity of Outdoor Recreation and Local Trail Networks,” which focused on boosting the outdoor recreation economy through community-based natural resource amenities, like a trail network. He urged private sector businesses to use their resources and influence to improve their communities and challenged them to seek out innovative ways to improve outdoor recreation.
Dr. Richelle Winkler, professor of sociology and demography, and researcher Julia Petersen, both from Michigan Technological University, talked about “The In-Migration Impact of the Pandemic.”
They noted that the pandemic slowed net migration, with in-migration decreasing at a slower rate than out-migration. They recommended that communities focus on retaining young adult residents, marketing and recruiting in places with established migration flows, and developing natural local amenities as part of their overall economic and community growth strategies.
Meeting attendees also participated in three panel discussions on talent attraction, collaboration between the private sector and higher education, and the role of internships in economic and community development. Some potential strategies identified in the panel discussions include:
— Embracing remote work as a fundamental economic development opportunity. Through the pandemic, the U.P. experienced an influx of remote workers who have bought homes and are contributing to their communities.
— Private sector and higher ed and local alignment on mentorship programs, career services, internship programs, and branding the U.P. as higher ed destination.
— Improving the internship market by preparing students and positioning internships as a place to find out their strengths and areas for improvement.
— Implementing internship programs that match students with more experienced employees who are looking to step down into retirement.
Robert Mahaney, InvestUP board member and past chairman and CEO of the Veridea Group, delivered closing remarks that encouraged business leaders to get engaged, speak as one U.P. voice, and use their talents and ideas to develop strategies that will move prosperity for the U.P. forward.
“Gathering business and higher education leaders in this setting provides a unique opportunity for candid and actionable strategic discussions surrounding our region’s challenges,” he said.
“It is the goal of InvestUP, and the board of directors, to use input from the region’s biggest thinkers to strengthen our strategic plan and deliver meaningful positive impact on the economic and community development issues facing the Upper Peninsula and the businesses that call the U.P. home,” Mahaney said.