ALPENA - This year was a big year for Alpena on many levels. There were marquee events that exposed Alpena on a national level, as well as attracted new tourism to the area. It was also a year with big economic development and business news. Now, officials say, it is important to keep the momentum flowing into 2014 and beyond.
Perhaps the largest news in terms of economic development came when Meijer announced its intent to build a new superstore on M-32. As in other communities that are home to a Meijer store, it is expected other businesses will start up locally in the next year or so.
Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Jim Klarich said now that Meijer is coming, the interest from other businesses interested in adding locations in Alpena has increased. He said there is interest not only along M-32, but also in the city. Klarich said he believes in 2014 there could be more announcements.
"It puts us on the map even more and lets people know we are the commercial and economic hub of Northeast Michigan," Klarich said. "I hate to count my chickens before they hatch, but right now I'm confident we'll hear more soon about additional development opportunities on M-32 and possibly in the city as well."
Chamber Executive Director Jackie Krawczak said there were a lot of contacts made that are turning into projects for next year. She said she expects 2014 to be an exciting year.
"A lot of the stuff that happened in 2013 were behind the scenes, with the exception of the tourism stuff," Krawczak said. "The visual part of some of the things being worked on this year will start happening in 2014."
The number of visitors choosing Alpena for vacations or to take part in local events also seemed to increase. Thanks to the new branding effort and a commitment to attract tourists, Alpena is carving out its place as a top destination in Michigan. Alpena Convention and Visitors Bureau President Mary Beth Stutzman said there was a lot of progress made in marketing Alpena in part to events such as the Harley Owners Group bike rally, the filming of the Major League Fishing reality TV series and the four visits by the cruise ship Yorktown.
Stutzman said Alpena also was featured in Mitch Albom's new book "The First Phone Call from Heaven." She said local businesses and residents have gotten a taste of what Alpena can be, and that it is important to continue to expand on the exposure it received in 2013.
"I think it is a rising hope of the community that we are a worthy destination, and as a community we are starting to understand what that means for us and what it means for economic development," Stutzman said. "More importantly we are embracing it more than what I have seen in the past. I think this past year has given us a good handle of what we are capable of and I think it will carry forward into 2014 and beyond."
Alpena Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Lesslee Dort said there were four businesses downtown that expanded and nine new stores that opened. She said there also were seven new residential units created.
She said local business benefited from the HOG rally and the Yorktown, as well as local events that were held. She said in 2014 Alpena could become a Michigan Main Street Select level member, which would be a positive for local businesses. She said there also was the design of a possible plaza downtown. If the plan moves forward the plaza would be constructed where the city's parking lot is behind the Owl Cafe.
Dort said in 2014 there will be some special events planned at the location to get a feel for what a plaza could offer. She said 2013 was an exciting year for Alpena. She said she believes the ability of the chamber, the CVB and the DDA to work together will lead to further successes next year.
"This year we saw a wonderful collaboration of all of the community development partners bringing events to town as a group and finding out how each group can make it the best for the community," Dort said. "We all learned what our roles were and how to best complement the other's role. To the public we almost seem like one entity now."
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