Study: $174M flows to Alpena from Lake Huron

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A pair of fishermen launch their boat at the harbor in Alpena on Friday to fish in Thunder Bay. A study commissioned by the Michigan Port Collaborative found water-based tourism and commercial business led to a total of $178.8 million in economic impact in Alpena 2017.

ALPENA –The use of industrial ports and boat harbors in coastal communities in Michigan is a large driver for businesses in lakeside cities, pushing nearly $180 million into the Alpena area in 2017, a study commissioned by the Michigan Port Collaborative showed.

Alpena was one of 17 coastal towns reviewed in the study, which was based on data collected in 2017 and released earlier this week on the Michigan Port Collaborative website.

The results say water-based tourism and commercial industry had $173.8 million in economic impact in Alpena in 2017, with commercial activity leading the way, generating $128.3 million.

Much of that can be attributed to commercial shipping for plants such as Lafarge North America, as well as commercial fishing operations.

Lafarge Plant Manager Mike Nixon said being able to utilize the Great Lakes to move product is key to being able to quickly fill orders. He said that, if the plant were unable to traverse the Great Lakes, the plant would be forced to operate differently and would likely be less efficient.

“The Great Lakes give us the economic viability to be able to supply our markets,” Nixon said. “Without them, we couldn’t do it.

The overall economic impact from water-based tourism and recreation was $45.5 million, the study found. That included $3.9 million being spent in local restaurants, $3.5 million on lodging, $1.9 million in gas sales, and $1.3 million on groceries.

The economic impact in the commercial sector is still the main driver in Alpena, but Mary Beth Stutzman, president of the Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said tourism is making great strides in contributing to our local economy.

“Industry has a long history in Alpena, but I don’t think tourism was part of the big discussion — it was kind of a side note,” she said. “This study shows that it has earned a seat at the table and is just as important as other things. Tourism needs to continue to work in harmony with its industrial base to continue to strengthen our economy.”

The report, which was done by Vincent Magnini, executive director of the Institute for Service Research, says tourism, recreation and commercial ventures that are water-dependent accounted for 1,194 jobs and $72.2 million in wages. Tourism accounted for 387 of those jobs, which accounted for $17.3 million in pay.

Tourism also resulted in $3.1 million in local and state taxes and $3.8 million in federal taxes.

Alpena Harbor Master and collaborative Vice President Don Gilmet said thousands of people around Michigan were surveyed on which ports they have visited, the amount of money they spent and how they spent it, and the reason they chose the community they visited. He said responses were from people who traveled to coastal towns from at least 60 miles away who had day trips or overnight stays.

Gilmet said the results of the study will help local municipalities, private investors and other interested parties see the importance of maintaining and improving the waterfront.

“There needs to be help from the private sector, because the city can’t pay for it and the state won’t,” Gilmet said. “This is going to be a great tool to show private investors the economic benefits there are.”

Moving forward, there are also challenges that will need to be addressed. The report says invasive species such as European frog-bit and Asian carp could impact the lakes in a negative way, which could make them less appealing. Erosion also is a concern.

The report said Alpena’s water resources are the largest driver for people choosing to visit to kayak, fish, work, and vacation. It says more tourism growth is anticipated, as more Great Lakes cruise ships make Alpena a port.

“Alpena harnesses its water-based assets to sustain a complimentary blend of tourist and recreation applications and maritime shipping uses,” the report says. “While not included in these 2017 calculations, the tourist and recreation component will grow even larger with the MS Hamburg making two ports of call in Alpena in 2018. This cruising activity grows annual tourist counts by roughly 800 visitors.”

In its summary, the report takes note on how the economic climate has shifted lightly in Alpena over the years.

“Through the generations, the Alpena area has transformed its economic base to evolve and pull from the beneficial industry foundations available as a result of workforce concentration and natural resources; from lumber to limestone, manufacturing and fishing, and now, the evolution of service-based industry and tourism,” researchers wrote. “Tying all of Alpena’s economic value together are the water resources available for visitors, for residents, and for industry.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at Follow him on Twitter

Economic impact of Lake Huron

Water-based tourism and industry had $173.8 million in economic impact in Alpena in 2017, including:

∫ Commercial activity: $128.3 million

∫ Tourism/recreation: $45.5 million (including $3.9 million in local restaurants, $3.5 million on lodging, $1.9 million in gas sales, $1.3 million on groceries)

∫ Jobs: 1,194

∫ Wages: $72.2 million

Source: Michigan Port Collaborative

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