MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Western Marquette County communities must work closely together to diversify their economies, add new jobs and build long-term economic strength, according to a Northern Michigan University study.
Researchers from NMU’s Center for Rural Community and Economic Development said their review of other cities that faced mine closings demonstrated that an economic rebound is possible -- though it will require strong local leaders able to make difficult decisions, confidence from employers and communities able to boldly accept that new directions must be taken.
The NMU research can be used as a blueprint for Ishpeming, Negaunee and other communities in the region as they work with the state government for technical assistance through Project Empire, Gov. Rick Snyder’s initiative to provide added state support as a result of the indefinite idling of the Empire Mine and the loss of about 300 jobs.
State agencies will assist communities in setting priorities and goals, support the decision-making process, and provide other forms of assistance as the region moves forward. The NMU study was sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation as part of Project Empire.
“Project Empire’s first focus was on the miners and their families, helping them get the support they need as they find new jobs or participate in training that will lead to new careers,” said Roger Curtis, director of the Department of Talent and Economic Development, which is overseeing Project Empire.
Of the 307 workers affected by the mine idling, 243 have received services from the UPWARD Talent Council Michigan Works! That includes 57 who used relocation benefits and have gained employment at companies including Hibbing Taconite Company Mine in Minnesota and Verso Corporation in the Upper Peninsula.
Others are receiving training benefits, with 53 former miners gaining new skills at NMU, Michigan Technological University, and Bay College. Another 35 are interested in training and are taking the next steps to attend training in the near future.
The state also has worked with the Lake Superior Community Partnership on a computer portal where affected miners can post resumes and search for jobs posted by area employers.
“We’re now entering the second phase, which is to build stronger communities and long-term economic success,” Curtis said. “There is much to be done, and we’ll have to think differently. But the people of Western Marquette County can be proud of their region’s heritage as they decide what their future will be.”
NMU researchers looked for examples of mining communities similar to Ishpeming and Negaunee that have rebounded economically, focusing on Canadian cities of Elliot Lake, Ontario and Sydney, Nova Scotia.
In both cities, leaders rallied around unified economic development strategies and leveraged local assets, such as plentiful supply of affordable housing and access to outdoor recreational opportunities.
“Mining communities face special challenges, since their economies are based on non-renewable resources,” NMU professor Michael Broadway said. “In Western Marquette County, the exhaustion of iron ore and nickel in the near future is a reality that needs confronting. The challenge will lie in getting all the parties to work together for the common goal of improving the economy and providing a future for young people and the next set of displaced workers so that they will not have to leave the area to find work.”
Since the launch of Project Empire, Gov. Snyder and MEDC leaders have provided strategic guidance to a group of Upper Peninsula business leaders who initiated an effort to create a regional organization dedicated specifically to economic and talent development, attraction, and retention.
Gov. Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, and MEDC leaders joined regional CEOs and educators to launch the initiative, which is currently in the final stages of formal organization.