Economic development takes time to show visible growth

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Bill Mendenhall of Omega Eletric works on the interior of Biggby Coffee shop. According to Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Jim Klarich there are a lot development projects being worked on behind the scenes, which could come to fruition in the next year or two. Biggby is one of the business that will open in Alpena this year.

ALPENA –The success or failure of economic development shouldn’t always be judged by the amount of new stores or restaurants that open each year. Because of the time it takes to recruit investors, conduct feasibility studies, form a business plan, execute and ratify agreements and begin construction, it can take years for a project to become reality, according to Jim Klarich, Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development director.

That is somewhat the case in Alpena, where much of the economic activity currently being worked is out of public view, but should come together and all of the behind the scenes work will become a reality.

According to Klarich, 2017 was a very good year in Alpena. He said just because there wasn’t a high profile manufacturing facility, store or restaurant opening it doesn’t mean there wasn’t progress made in making that likely in the next couple years.

“The timelines that we work on aren’t measured in weeks or months, they are measured in years,” Klarich said. “The work we did last year, or are doing today, may not turn into something someone can see for 24 months, 36 months or sometimes longer. There is a lot of planting seeds and helping them to grow. From the time a conversation starts to the time you begin to see something takes a very long time.”

Klarich said in 2017 there were 10 new businesses opened with a total capital investment of $1.8 million. He said that is on par with past years and he hopes to match or surpass that this year. He said goals for 2018 are about the same as they have been, to increase Alpena’s industrial strength and assisting and helping to grow the commercial presence.

There are other ongoing goals for local development as well. Finding a developer for the the former Alpena Power property on Thunder Bay River and the old Kmart building in Alpena Township are still high priorities, as is working with businesses already established in the area that want to expand.

“Our commercial presence will continue to grow throughout the area and along our primary corridors and downtown,” Klarich said. “We also want to push our small business platforms a little bit harder because we think we’re capable of more and we certainly have the loan programs that will be able to support that. We are hoping to see some groundbreaking in the next year or two years and see the results of the efforts we’ve been putting forth.”

Klarich said Harbor Freight has reached a lease agreement with the owner of the old Staples and MC Sports building on M-32 West. He said the deal has been close for some time, but it wasn’t until just before the holidays that it became official. Klarich said the timeline for the store to be open is still up in the air, however.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.