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Fletcher: Economic structure needs change

June 5, 2012
Stephen Fletcher , The Alpena News

A few days ago a local man called me with an inquiry. I'll call this fellow Bill and his son Fred in order to disguise their identities.

I've known Bill since elementary school, and Fred from his birth. These are a couple of square shooters who follow the Dr. Seuss dictum of "Say what you mean, mean what you say." I take these fellows at their word as their word has always been good.

Bill said Fred has an important management position with a firm that is expanding. Fred has told his Dad that he would like to "do something for Alpena" and that he has it within his authority to put an industrial plant in our area.

Bill's question to me is this: "Who does he talk to concerning the availability of industrial plant sites?"

I had to tell him there really aren't any large sites available that are zoned heavy industrial. The North Industrial Park is nearly filled and the property across US-23 is not zoned heavy industrial. Alpena Township doesn't have anything which comes to mind in this zoning classification, so I couldn't be very accommodating concerning our ability to move fast.

Bill said a mutual friend of ours, former resident Bill LaLonde, lives in a city that promises 30 days or less action on property to suit a new employer. We can't do that because we don't have marketable industrial parcels ready to be sold. If fact, we are months away from being ready to deal with a request for the creation of new jobs.

If we lose this prospect, it will be third time someone has approached me this year about available industrially zoned land in the area. Our 14.2 percent April unemployment rate indicates that we probably have a ready supply of labor and the local banks have money available for lending. So, two of the three keys to any economic deal are in place - labor and capital. However it seems we don't have the critical third - available land.

I've been harping in this column about the shortage of available industrial sites in Alpena County for three years. The last two mayors and council haven't pursued more industrial land, nor has Alpena Township trustees. For that matter, none of the townships have thought that this shortage was worthy of any action.

If you don't have available land inventory, then a potential employer is hard to attract.

I sent Bill and Fred over to Jim Klarich at Target Alpena to see if he could help them. I sincerely hope that Jim knows of a parcel of properly zoned land that can net us some jobs.

In the meantime, it's really time for our political entities to start working on the zoning maps. We need more industrially zoned property to create jobs. This was really the ideal time for this to occur because if the present elected group can't provide the proper zoning which will lead to job creation, then we can add this group of incumbents to the ranks of the unemployed in November by voting in folks who want to see economic expansion in Northeast Michigan.

These opportunities are few and far between. If jobs are important to you, then it's time for you to start being an economic activist by speaking to your elected officials about positioning our area in such a way with zoning that we may secure jobs. This doesn't all happen in Washington or on Wall Street folks. There is work that we must do to support our own economic well-being.

Mom said: "God helps those who help themselves." In order to have jobs locally for our families, we must structure our economic environment to accommodate those jobs.

Stephen Fletcher was graduated decades ago from Cornell University with an A.B. in Economics and from Michigan State University with an M.B.A. He has lived and worked in the decades from graduation until now in the Alpena area. He thinks economics is fun and interesting.



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