ALPENA - The need for further economic development in Alpena is critical if it wants to increase the slipping population and attract visitors to the area, according to officials. With the announcement of Meijer intending to construct a supercenter and the prospect of Alpena County Regional Airport becoming a premier location for unmanned aircraft testing and development, the pieces leading to future growth may now be in place.
Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Director of Economic Development Jim Klarich said the addition of Meijer to the business landscape in Alpena will have a large impact on other stores, restaurants and hotels considering building as well.
"It's huge," Klarich said. "I know there have already been some land owners on the M-32 corridor that have been contacted by numerous people. Getting Meijer was really important too because many times getting the first one is the hardest and by getting Meijer it will allow us to speak in a loud voice to other retailers that Alpena is a prime market."
Meijer last expressed interest in developing in Alpena in 2000, but Klarich reached out to them shortly after being hired in 2011 in an attempt to get it to reconsider. As discussions progressed, and the retailer did its due diligence as to whether or not the area could provide the needed customer traffic to be successful, Klarich said those involved learned a lot about what businesses consider before making a determination to build. He said there are three elements that need to be pushed to others.
"They consider a lot of things and it is not based on how many people are in the community," Klarich said. "They look at the overall population reach outside of Alpena, traffic count and overall economic stability. Right now we are attractive to some and aren't to others. We are making sure they know we exist and have a lot to offer. Now we have a better understanding about what companies look at in terms of data and information and I think that will help a lot when recruiting potential development."
One type of business Klarich and the chamber have been pursuing are hotel or motel chains. For some time Alpena has suffered from a lack of rooms, which has cost it large events or conferences in the past. Klarich said as Alpena becomes a more popular destination, having more accommodations and available rooms are important.
"We have had outreach to most hotel companies in the country to let them know about Alpena and the opportunities to develop here," Klarich said. "Is there some movement? I can't speak to that right now. I will say however that we are on people's radar for hotel developments."
Chamber Executive Director Jackie Kraczak said she expects more development along M-32 now that Meijer has decided to open its store. She said it is important to continue to ride the momentum created by the new store, which should be open in April 2015.
"I think in a lot of ways Meijer is going to be the reason other places consider Alpena," Krawczak said. "I don't think you can slow or stop forward movement once a store of that size comes in. When a store like that opens there are always followers and another wave of businesses will want to come in. I think there will be significantly more activity."
As M-32 continues to develop, Alpena's north and south corridors have been slow to add new businesses. Klarich said there are opportunities for them, but the interested company has the final say on where the best place for the businesses are.
"All of the areas are open for discussion and we do show them all of the options in town," Klarich said. "From a national or regional retailer perspective though the M-32 corridor is driving a lot more activity and traffic than the others. As long as these companies continue to focus on traffic counts and things like that, I think the development is going to continue to take place on M-32.
"These people are smart. They aren't going to spend millions of dollars to open a store if it isn't going to succeed. Right now they feel M-32 is the area where they are the best fit."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com