Economic growth bolstered by programs

ESCANABA — The Delta County Economic Development Alliance (DCEDA) is collaborating with a variety of agencies, companies, and educational institutions as its works to retain, expand and attract business to the region.

Vicki Schwab, DCEDA executive director, offered examples of all of the above during an update on the alliance presented at the Joint Governmental Round Table meeting of area officials at Escanaba City Hall on Monday.

Describing the county as “the land of water, woods and warm smiles,” Schwab said the DCEDA works closely with the Delta County Chamber of Commerce, the Bays de Noc Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the U.P. State Fair in promoting the region and encouraging economic growth.

Economic trends show retail and tourism are the top industries in the area followed by manufacturing, she said. The health care field is the fastest growing industry while government is on the decline, she noted.

A Michigan State University analysis of 14 events in Delta County last year — ranging from sporting to educational events — showed an economic impact of $3.2 million in direct spending as well as 41 jobs, said Schwab.

Offering additional statistics to those attending Monday’s meeting, Schwab said the county is home to 2,550 small businesses, including knife manufacturers, which are among the growing industries in the local area.

On the other end of the spectrum, large businesses such as local manufacturing plants are expanding, Schwab added. For example, Engineered Machined Products was recently awarded a Caterpillar contract, which added 40 jobs at the Escanaba company, she said.

The county’s largest employer — Verso Corporation’s Escanaba paper mill — has an estimated annual economic impact in the local community of $360 million, said Schwab.

According to information from Verso available at the meeting, the company is the largest employer of full-time workers in the region with an annual payroll of nearly $74 million while also indirectly supporting thousands of additional jobs in the plant’s supply chain.

The DCEDA continues to partner with local manufacturers, Michigan Works!, and area schools to increase the awareness of local manufacturing jobs and promote the skills and knowledge needed to fill these positions, said Schwab, mentioning a new program to introduce freshmen and sophomores to local industries.

The county’s economic alliance also works with local businesses, both big and small, to help retain and expand their services, products and workforce, she said. More than $3 million worth of exports from the county were distributed to 40 different countries last year, she noted.

Schwab also said established companies from outside the state are looking to develop in Michigan and are seeking information on the local work force, energy rates, available property, broadband capabilities, and transportation.

Brand new businesses are also being explored in the region such as development of an aquaculture to raise fish for food, said Schwab, explaining the Hannahville Indian Community and Pisces Industries are joining efforts to create a community-supported fishery.

Schwab said the DCEDA continues to assist the Superior Trade Zone (STZ) which seeks to attract economic growth to Delta and Marquette counties by offering state tax incentives for potential development.

With assistance from the DCEDA, the STZ recently received a $50,000 grant from the Defense Manufacturing Assistance Program (DMAP) to create a marketing strategy.

For the past seven years, the DCEDA has also been working to expand broadband internet service to rural areas and has partnered with Schoolcraft County towards this goal, said Schwab. The Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission, also known as CUPPAD, has assisted in conducting surveys.

Schwab encouraged those in attendance to participate in an upcoming online survey for information on tourism potential in Delta County. Data is being collected in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,