News from Sarah Lucas and Lake Superior Community Partnership, sharing the U.P. Perspective:
With a 25-year history in Marquette County’s economic development, the LSCP has seen many things come and go – and its past and present put us in a good spot for the future.
The LSCP has built an economic development foundation around the core services of business attraction, start-ups, and retention. Attraction activities connect businesses to properties or incentives that help them make the decision to relocate to the community. Start-up support helps new businesses navigate the regulatory and financial requirements needed to get up and running; while business retention activities ensure that existing businesses have what they need to stay in the community as they grow or transition.
Over the years, LSCP has provided all of those services and more, with a focus on business retention, which, as research continually shows, pays off with the most jobs and economic impact long-term. It’s especially important in rural areas like ours, where many employers are small businesses run by owner-operators that don’t have the time or staff to navigate complicated funding programs to access the resources they need to grow. The LSCP is here to provide staff time and expertise, resources, and connections to those businesses.
While business retention will always be a foundation of economic development, the economic environment is changing in important ways. For one thing, the need for business start-up support has increased significantly since 2020. Locally, statewide, and nationally, there’s been a significant surge in start-ups as people respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by COVID by creating new businesses. In fact, new business growth in Michigan in 2021 was 59% higher than in 2019, and at its highest rate since the state began tracking it in 2004. Requests for support for start-ups made up nearly a third of LSCP’s activity last year.
Another critical shift is the fact that economic development is increasingly dependent on the availability of the workforce. Economic development has traditionally been focused on creating and retaining jobs – now, it’s also focused on strategies to attract and retain the workforce that will fill those jobs.
Businesses regularly identify workforce shortages as the biggest challenge they face. Those challenges are connected to big demographic trends like our aging population, Baby Boomer retirements, and childcare or other caregiving needs that prevent some parents or family members from working. And, forecasts for the U.P. point to continued declines in population, further impacting our region’s workforce.
That means that, to remain competitive in economic development, we need to be proactive and deliberate about the strategies that will make our region attractive to both businesses and the workforce. Simply put, we have to make our communities the kinds of places that business owners and their workers want to live. To do so, we need coordinated, region-wide action that will result in more housing choices, improvements to transportation and recreation assets, and investments in education, childcare, and workforce development.
This community-based approach to economic prosperity is a vision that the LSCP is passionate about and committed to. Our partnerships with the region’s communities, and our ability to bring together businesses, community organizations, and decision-makers, position us to lead the kinds of collaborative solutions we need to be competitive. As our economy and our region evolve, the LSCP will continue to offer its time-tested economic development services – and will carry on its legacy of leadership, adaptability, and partnership to change with the times and respond to the region’s economic priorities.