Positive outlooks about Alpena

The Talent Attraction Committee of Northeast Michigan Council of Governments recently hosted an event in Alpena that was a gathering of young professionals. The goal was to learn about what draws younger people to the area and what the group likes best about the area.

I fit within the age parameters of the event but I attended more out of curiosity to hear what would be shared. After attending (full disclosure — the event was supposed to last from 5 to 7 p.m., but went until 7:45 p.m. and I had to leave at 6:30 p.m.), some existing thoughts were reinforced, a few new observations were made, and I am prouder than ever of the direction our community is heading.

The first thing I was made aware of was that the number of people who turned out for the event dominated numbers who showed up at similar events held across Northeast Michigan. That was a good start.

As participants shared introductions, it became apparent the clear majority in attendance were positive about their decision to live in the Alpena area. Commonalities in statements included choosing to move back to raise a family because it’s a wonderful place to do so, that getting involved in the community to the degree they do is easier than it would be in larger/other communities, there are plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, Alpena is leaps ahead of where it was a decade or so ago, and there are still plenty of opportunities for continued forward movement and growth.

I was pleased that of the 40 or so people in attendance, only three of them had an overall negative tone about the area. It was a refreshing difference from what would have happened had this event been held a decade ago. Experience tells me that a decade ago, only about half of the people, if that, would have shown up, and of those, only a small number would have had an overall positive tone.

The thing that was really reinforced for me was that the people who have a real passion for living here, and who want to be successful here, are driven to find a way to make those things happen. There are opportunities everywhere if you are willing to look with a creative eye as well as deep within yourself, put in sweat equity, back up what you say with meaningful action and maintain a positive attitude. It was very evident that most of the people at the gathering fit that bill and, although most agreed there is room for improvement and growth, they were happy with the community and excited for the future.

Of the many things I learned that night, the one thing that really stood out to me was the energy that was present. It seemed that most people came prepared to celebrate and share positive news and not to whine or complain. There was truly a fantastic feeling in the air that evening.

During the introductions, a few suggestions were offered as to ways to improve the community. I followed up the next day with a participant who had stayed for the entire event and she told me that many more suggestions cropped up as the evening went on because of responses to specific questions asked by the hosts.

The true test will be what happens moving forward. Some attendees will wait for further instruction. Some won’t care to be involved in anything more. And some will not wait for instruction and will begin moving forward on their own. It is easy to attend an event like this and share thoughts. It is slightly more challenging to attend and act but only after further instruction. It is much more challenging to attend, and then act on your own.

I challenge those in attendance to grab hold of something that piqued your interest at that event, and begin to explore it. Research what might already be in the works. Discover ways to get involved. I also invite everyone else to think about what kind of response you would have to an event like that.

Would you be one to wait for instructions? Would you be one to walk away and never look back? Or would you take an idea and run with it? The last response is the most challenging and impactful yet it is the most uncommon. Only those brave enough take on that challenge and it is certainly noticed and appreciated.

Jackie Krawczak is president/CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.