Culture key to moving Alpena forward

If Alpena is going to continue to make strides in economic development and attract more people to reside in Alpena, it is going to have to rely in its strong work heritage and a culture which will provide visitors a positive experience.

At Thursday’s Alpena Intergovernmental Council meeting Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Jim Klarich and former Alpena Combat Readiness Training Commander Jim Makowske explained how beneficial working together for the greater cause of the area, can move it forward.

Makowske compared Alpena to the base and explained the similarities they share. He said both are off the beaten path and have to work harder than others to promote itself. He said when we do have visitors or customers, we need to go the extra mile to help ensure their experience is memorable and they return.

“They are really parallel universes and share a lot of the same challenges local governing bodies face,” Makowske said. “So the question is now do we get people to Alpena? We can’t change our geography. We can’t change the infrastructure or buildings very fast, so we have to look at what makes us an attractive place to come to. At the CRTC we focused on culture because it was the one thing we had some bearing on.”

Makowske said the culture at the base included going to great lengths to fulfill requests and accommodations. He said if a request couldn’t be granted measures we’re take to fulfill the request as closely as possible. He said using the words “no” or “can’t” went acceptable. He said if local community leaders do the same, more people or businesses will be apt to come and stay in the Alpena area.

Klarich said there is a misconception locally that there are no jobs. He said that is untrue. He said there are local businesses that are being forced to recruit workers from down state. Klarich said that myth has become part of Alpena’s culture and it needs to change. He said educating and promoting the opportunities in Alpena is important if we want the younger generation to stay , and to attract larger businesses, who are skeptical about building in Alpena out of fear their workforce needs can’t be met.

“There are tremendous opportunities here and don’t let anyone tell you any different,” Klarich said. “We get looked at regionally and they care about their trade area, where their workforce is going to come from and tourism.”

Klarich said making things as simple as possible for potential developers is key in making retail and industrial dreams a reality. He said every township, city and county needs to contribute and put an effort forward. He said no matter where a business opens, everyone benefits.

“I’ll use Meijer as an example. We’re receiving those 300 jobs and the $20 million in direct investment because we convinced them we could make it work. We said we are here to help you and most importantly we said yes. If we want to continue to do this we are all going to have to make an investment. I truly believe this group has the ability to reshape this region. We need to be desirable, memorable and we need to execute.”

In other business:

Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush had a video call with the council to explain the local emergency response and how the county millage renewal request will benefit the county.

Alpena County commissioner updated the council on recent activity, including ballot issues in August, as well as operations and finances at the Momtmorency-Oscoda-Alpena landfill.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689.