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State’s new Office of Rural Development to address U.P. economic recovery

U.P. stakeholders calling it an opportunity to deliver community issues right to the table as relief policies are being made.
Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 7:44 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a new state department Tuesday that U.P. stakeholders said could be a boon to the region’s economic development.

“To help families and businesses in Michigan’s rural communities, I’m creating the Office of Rural Development,” Governor Whitmer said.

Lake Superior Community Partnership CEO Amy Clickner said the new office opens up the opportunity for U.P. communities to address their unique challenges to the state head on.

“We don’t want it in name only. We want a position that is at the table when decisions are being made, so that we can bring a rural perspective and make solid the actions that are taken out of Lansing,” she said.

Clickner and InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante explained that they’re hopeful this new office and the Governor’s relief programs will work hand-in-hand to lift up the U.P. economy - especially small businesses.

“There’s no question that small business in the Upper Peninsula has been so profoundly impacted by this (pandemic). And too often, state programming is driven by our more major metropolitan areas. So from our perspective, this gives us an opportunity to say ‘how can we have some programming, some incentives that really better work for small rural communities,” Fittante said.

The Office of Rural Development will be led by U.P. native and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Gary McDowell, bridging the coordinated effort.

Fittante said the discussion stage has already begun.

“Now the hard work begins, right? It’s putting what the framework looks like. We’re hopeful to be at the table for that. Grateful for the outreach yesterday. It was a great team effort. It shows the power of collaboration and partnership. We had 80 stakeholders across the state. So everyone from institutional leaders to community leaders to the private sector, all across the state came together to make this a reality. It’s a great, great testament to partnership,” said the InvestUP CEO.

Clickner also echoed the coalition’s collective efforts, which she said went on over a year in advocating the state’s focus to rural communities.

And she added that the efforts didn’t stop there.

“The ‘Love on Local’ gift card program (in Marquette County) that we do, well in six months last year sold a quarter of a million dollars in gift cards to support our small local businesses. That’s what our community is about. And that’s why something like an office of rural development will be successful,” the LSCP CEO said.

It’s a testament to the U.P. community as a whole.

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