Lt. governor holds roundtable discussion

ALPENA – Lt. Gov. Brian Calley took a tour of Alpena Regional Medical Center Friday with local business leaders, government officials and representatives, and sat down with them for a roundtable discussion about the administration’s efforts to grow Michigan’s economy and create jobs in the area.

Calley brought with him License and Regulartory Affairs Department Director Steve Arwood, and Steve Hilfinger, chief operating officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, to discuss the economic opportunities in Alpena. Arwood talked about the positive changes that have been in the works for LARA, and how it is working to cut licensing time in half to allow faster development.

“We are looking at every aspect of our department to see if we can do it better and faster,” Arwood said.

Hilfinger said his department has been focusing on efficiency and connecting businesses within the state to form better local practices and keep the dollars in Michigan’s economy.

“We try to connect buyers to sellers through our Pure Michigan Business Connect,” Hilfinger said. “We have match making sessions and try to keep Michigan businesses working together.”

Calley highlighted a few economic statistics from the last three years, saying the private sector generated a quarter-million jobs across several industries, and last year the state had the ninth fastest income growth in the nation.

“The economic development strategy in the past wasn’t really focused on people that were already here. It was focused on, how do we get somebody to come in from someplace else and save us,” Calley said. “As we’ve shifted that focus, our people have really delivered.”

Cally said the Snyder administration started with fiscal stability and then worked on competitive issues with the tax system and put less of a burden on administration. Another area it focused on was regularity reform, and getting rid of rules and regulations.

“We’ve had great success in this area,” Calley said. “We’re down about 1,600 rules … But as important or more important probably than that is how well we do with the ones that we maintain and keep.”

The focus has been to give time back to entrepreneurs. Smaller companies don’t have time or lawyers to deal with rules and regulations.

“Every minute they spend dealing with state government is a minute that they don’t spend developing their business and securing a future for themselves and for all those who find opportunities in their company,” Calley said. “That’s why we’ve really tried to focus on giving back time to our customers, the people of the State of Michigan.”

ARMC Chief Executive Officer Karmon Bjella talked about how being in a rural area has had an impact on the hospital and how legislation designed for areas with close access to other healthcare facilities doesn’t apply in many ways to Alpena and our region.

“We are one of the most remote areas in the country for health care,” Bjella said. “Instead of serving basically a one-county population, we pretty much serve six or seven counties … accessing licenses weeks quicker is very important. It’s important to access people quickly, especially licensed health care providers.”

Calley said he was glad to be able to visit the hospital, and talk with locals about the struggles rural communities face involving healthcare and business licensing, regulation and expansion.

“The health care industry isn’t an easy industry to survive in, particularily in remote areas,” Calley said. “It provides some real challenges, and (the hospital) is such a critically important part of the healthcare infrastructure here.”

Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackie Krawczak said part of the driving force in the economic growth of the community is the effort of energetic people.

“We’re not waiting for things to come to us, we’re going out and finding them,” Krawczak said. “We’re making things happen.”

Calley addressed the state’s economic growth saying that the population and income growth is a good sign but “we can’t afford to be complacent.”

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.