Region in better economic position
ALPENA – Companies of all sizes hire site selectors to do the leg work in locating the perfect place in which to develop. Setting up meetings or being granted a chance to make a pitch to them, however, is a challenge, but it is one the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Target Alpena are finding success with.
On Tuesday, Target Director Jim Klarich and Eric Duistermars, MEDC site location services and business attraction manager, told the Target board and local business people how the local economic development group and the state are working together to spur growth in the area.
Duistermars said site selectors look at many factors – not only a specific location, but other aspects such as infrastructure, workforce and amenities within the community being proposed. He said they also consider the amount and type of incentive being offered and state laws that could impact the profitability of the business.
He said not long ago Michigan was a tough sell to site selectors, but thanks to recent business-friendly legislation, such as right-to-work law and the abolishment of personal property tax, Michigan can provide companies a lucrative place to conduct business while strengthening the job market.
“This is a game and Michigan has been out of the game,” Duistermars said. “We were getting about seven looks a year from site selectors, but the last two years alone we have closed $314 million in capital improvement from site selector projects and attracted 3,013 jobs. We got that from just playing the game.”
Duistermars said he has never been to Alpena before, but thanks to the aggressive work of Klarich he has been able to learn more about Alpena and the surrounding areas. He said he and Klarich communicate regularly, and Alpena will get plugged to the site selectors. He said Alpena has a lot of things going for it that could make it appealing to potential investors.
“Alpena has the perfect business climate and a tremendous quality of life,” Duistermars said. “You have this blend and you could build anything here. You have competitive labor rates, you have a network of local businesses which seem to be well connected and that is huge for supply chain partners.
“We have a great state and there are a lot of great places, but in northeastern Michigan there is something here that many aren’t aware of that I think will be extremely attractive to site selectors.”
Another thing that could bolster the economic climate in Alpena is the possibility of the state being designated a center of excellence for drone training and testing from the Federal Aviation Administration. Duistermars said Alpena could be a major player in the project, and with or without the distinction unmanned aircraft business in Alpena could have a snowball effect for business.
“To have some of the defense stuff you have going on here and now you just need to package it right and getting it in front of the right people,” Duistermars said. “The impact would be huge … You would have families moving here and that would help settle some of your future work force needs and I think it is a tremendous opportunity.”
Klarich said as economic development takes place one of the key resources site selectors look for are the availability of qualified workers. He said currently the unemployment rate in Alpena is slightly over 10 percent, but the surrounding counties are much higher. He said the people who live in Montmorency, Alcona and Presque Isle counties could land quality jobs in Alpena is they are willing to make the short trip.
“We have some very high skill people here, but there are two things we need to make sure happen,” Klarich said. “Number one is we need to make certain the surrounding counties understand there is a tremendous amount of opportunity in Alpena. The second part is they need to realize in order to effect them in a more positive manner Alpena needs to get bigger. It needs to continue to grow and they need to be a part of that solution.”