You can (and should) shape Alpena’s economic future

On today’s front page, The News ended a four-day, seven-story series titled “This Is Us,” an in-depth look at Alpena’s changing economy and how its leaders are working to overcome challenges — we’ve lost more than 1,400 jobs since the Great Recession hit in 2007 — while amplifying our assets and preserving the things that drove each of us to call Alpena home.

The title given to the series was intentional, meant to convey that this community and its economy does not belong to those elected, appointed or otherwise hired to lead it. It belongs to each of us: Every high school student looking around him or her, wondering if they’ll return home after college. Every recent transplant or returnee who wants to know they’ve made a good decision to move here. Every business owner or entrepreneur who wants to make this community something that can support his or her family.

And we wrote it so that you, dear reader, can arm yourself with information to get involved, to make sure this changing economy changes in the way you want it.

From the stories, compiled after News reporters spent weeks conducting interviews and collecting data, we learned that many of our job losses, not unlike elsewhere across Michigan, have been in manufacturing: Census data shows we lost a net 461 such jobs between 2007 and 2017. However, we actually added a net 211 jobs related to tourism — arts and entertainment, hospitality and leisure, and retail –in those years. Tourism is far from the only driver of our or any economy, but it is a growing share of our economy.

The stories showed us the many things that make Alpena unique: more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, 300,000 acres of open water, 43,000 acres of state forest land, and the nation’s only freshwater marine sanctuary. We learned that, when compared to other northern Michigan communities Traverse City, Gaylord and Marquette, Alpena has among the lowest costs of living, the lowest crime rates, the fewest traffic incidents.

Such things are what makes Alpena the Alpena it is today.

Maybe that’s an Alpena you want to keep — our reporting showed many Alpenans do want most of those things to stay the same.

Or maybe that’s an Alpena you want to transform into something completely new.

Either way, we hope you’ll arm yourself with the information from this series and get involved.

Attend meetings of the Alpena Municipal Council, Planning Commission, and Downtown Development Authority. Write letters to your Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. And vote with your wallet, supporting the things you cherish and want to preserve.

This is us, and only we can say what comes next.