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Column: One hundred years of better together

ESCANABA — It’s just seven weeks into 2021 and here we are again with a reminder that it is a very special year for the Delta County Chamber of Commerce as we celebrate the Chamber Centennial. We are so thankful to our members who have allowed us to serve the community and support the growth of business and industry in Delta County for the last century.

Looking back at news archives over the last 100 years, it is obvious that the Chamber was actively involved in the strengthening of local business and community development. As an example, it was reported that the Chamber, in its first decade, was instrumental in leading the charge for the formation of Escanaba’s city manager form of government and launching the legislative movement that financially supported school districts. In the not-too-distant past, the Chamber continued its mission of community development by forming several community and economic development organizations.

Here is a little history about the partner organizations of the Delta County Commerce Center – true examples of the collaborative efforts to bring individuals, organizations and community members together to solve existing and emerging challenges that could not easily be solved by the Chamber alone.

First up, the Delta County Economic Development Alliance. The DCEDA was incorporated in 1993 after the Chamber of Commerce and then Escanaba City Manager, James Hauser, Jr., suggested that there needed to be a single resource focused on economic development in our area. Escanaba had recently completed Celebrate Escanaba, a strategic planning community assessment, and one of their findings was the need for a single source, county-based authority responsible for recruiting industry to the area.  The Delta County Chamber of Commerce took the lead in defining the structure, recruiting the first board, and writing the by-laws for the organization.

With the help of the Chamber, City of Escanaba, Delta County Commission, City of Gladstone, Wells Township, and a host of volunteers, the newly organized group created a mission statement and formed three initial work groups: Information Gathering, Information Dissemination, and Industry Action. The mission statement developed still holds true today, “To promote Economic Development in Delta County through the attraction, retention, and expansion of business and industry.”

After almost three decades, the DCEDA continues to be a single source of resources, information, and opportunities to help business and community development in our waterfront community.

The Delta County Builders Exchange was organized in the early 1980s when Roy Swanson was the Chamber director. The objectives of the Association are to procure plans, specifications, and information covering projects to be constructed, repaired and remodeled for the inspection and use of Exchange members, to furnish quarters for the members convenience in making such inspections, and to promote the use of members services for all construction activities in the area.

While the BX looks much different today than it did in 1984, the organization continues to serve the construction industry by making available plans for bid projects in the region. Thanks to advances in technology, members now have access to an online plan room, receive weekly emailed newsletters advertising upcoming projects, and have use of a large-format blueprint printer.

That brings us to the convention and visitors bureau, now known as Visit Escanaba. In 1980, the State of Michigan passed the Community Convention or Tourism Marketing Act, a law that allowed communities to collect an assessment on lodging bills at properties of ten rooms or more. All the money collected was available to a bureau to be used to promote tourism. Most areas of the state were collecting the assessments however, Delta County was not, and, therefore, did not have funds for marketing the community to potential visitors.

There was an opportunity to change that in 1997 when the Chamber started working with several local lodging properties and other interested businesses and drafted a proposal to start a tourism bureau in Delta County. The proposal was approved by lodging properties and the State of Michigan and in the early months of 1998, Delta County properties were collecting assessments from transient guests and had financial resources available to market the region as a tourism destination.

The law requires the tourism bureau to have its own board elected from and by the properties. The executive director and board determine how the assessment funds will be spent to promote Delta County as a Lake Michigan coastal paradise.

Space does not permit a complete overview of the Chamber’s involvement in the continuation of the U.P. State Fair. Watch for a future column that will take a walk through the rich history of Michigan’s oldest state fair.

Looking to the next 100 years, you have our dedicated commitment that the Chamber will be at the forefront of collaborating with community leaders and stakeholders to continue to make our waterfront community a great place to live, work and visit. #100yearsofbettertogether.

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Vickie Micheau is executive direstor of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce

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