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PROGRESS 2019: The state of the economy today? Alpena’s stock is rising

To provide you with a snapshot of where our economy stands today, it is important to look back at where we were not all that long ago.

In the winter of 2010, our unemployment rate hovered around 13.5%, there was little investment being made on any level, and our community’s general attitude reflected that.

Understandably, the counties surrounding Alpena were in even worse shape, as that is how the trends flow. If Northeast Michigan was a stock, it would’ve been classified at that time as a “hold or a sell.”

Through the work of many people, our economy has improved dramatically over the past eight years. Keep reading to learn how we have gotten to where we are currently.

Prior to 2011, most of the economic development efforts that were conceived and implemented relied on ideas from outside organizations and regional initiatives but didn’t focus on the “engine.” Alpena is the “engine” that provides for the health and wellbeing of a large swath of geography in Northeast Michigan. How Alpena goes, so goes the rest of the region.

Localized strategies were conceptualized, designed, and put into motion, which focused on improving the health of the “engine” and, if successful, would in turn drive improvement through the entire economic trade area that we serve, and for the long term.

What really got the ball rolling was the unofficial coordination of the activities amongst many stakeholders. That included the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Development Authority, along with the unwavering support of our businesses and local government entities. It also included growing our industrial presence, our commercial presence, our tourism industry, and our entrepreneurial support ecosystem.

There are a lot of extensions from each word in that last sentence, but it was the start of something remarkable. Our strengths were marketed to a thirsty world, we’ve reinforced our position as the economic hub of the region, and we invested heavily in the “engine” that is Alpena.

Wins started stacking up. Our undercapitalized or vacant buildings and empty lots started being developed or redeveloped, more people were finding opportunities for employment, visitor imaginations were being stirred, new small businesses began to emerge, and a concerted effort was made to align and improve upon our sense of place and our workforce development initiatives with the talent needs of our major employers.

While some may see the reemergence of our sense of place and self as a localized initiative, the impact isn’t. Throw a rock in the water and watch the ripples from the impact move outward — that’s a good visual of our strategy.

Unemployment is just one of many measuring sticks, but it can show us how far we’ve come in just nine years:

∫ Alcona County: January 2010, 22.6%; August 2019, 6.8%

∫ Alpena County: March 2010, 11.5%; August 2019, 4.8%

∫ Montmorency County: March 2010, 23.8%; August 2019, 6.5%

∫ Presque Isle County: February 2010, 15.5%; August 2019, 5.8%

Each passing year has brought increasing investment to our community, and, with it, more opportunities to Alpena and our surrounding counties. Our work isn’t confined to Alpena and we are both cognizant and motivated to make certain that opportunities aren’t missed in our adjacent counties.

The improvement in economic conditions in Alpena and Northeast Michigan have undoubtedly placed higher demands on our employers and our workforce. The ability for any employer to diversify, expand, or grow, is directly linked to the available workforce and that can be summed up in one word — competency.

Is there an ample current and future supply of competency in specific disciplines which will help accelerate business diversification and growth? No, not yet. But are we getting better? Yes.

The Alpena Chamber of Commerce, along with economic development, our businesses, schools, and Alpena Community College, are working together and have made concerted efforts and developed coordinated programs designed to better serve both the futures of the students and the talent needs of our employers and are used as a model for other communities to follow.

Sometimes, when you’re standing waist-deep in something, it’s hard to gauge where you’re standing. Over the past few years, we’ve had visits from numerous communities from across the state asking us what our recipe is and if we could help them or perform community assessments for them. The fact that they are taking notice of our progress certainly validates our work.

Recently, we had an out-of-region developer with a long history of working with our community in town for a tour. And he said it best when he said, “Your stock is no longer a hold or sell, you’re considered a buy.”

Jackie Krawczak is president and CEO and Jim Klarich is the former economic development director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce.

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