Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

June 30, 2013

Starting over can be a risk, but reward is sweet

TRAVERSE CITY -- Meggen Watt Peterson fought nuclear proliferation for 18 years as a national security analyst in Washington D.C. Today, she is a burgeoning local photographer chronicling life with her art on Leelanau County.

Skyler Fort traveled throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico as vice president of operations for a major Indianapolis-based painting company. Now his travels are rooted in Traverse City as owner of Fortified Coating, a residential painting contractor.

Both are examples of many of the region’s new entrepreneurs, successful professionals who left urban careers to start over in northern Michigan. Their stories are becoming increasingly common.

“So many in Michigan have gone through career evolutions,” said Amy Cell, Senior Vice President for Talent Enhancement at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, who noted the economic downturn between 2005 and 2008 caused many forced transitions while others made lifestyle choices. “Many transitioned from large organizations to join start-ups or start their own business.”

Traverse City's an attractive locale for job- and lifestyle-changers because it's known for quality of life, Cell said. Those who consider relocating here may want to move closer to family and put down roots, or escape a high-pressure work life or urban anonymity for a slower pace and familiar faces.

“After our second child, my wife and I were looking to relocate. I had a good job, benefits and pay, but it was not ideal for family life. Traverse was always on the radar,” Fort said, noting his wife Dana’s grandfather was a Lake Leelanau resident. “We wanted a small town feel but with substantial opportunities that wouldn’t limit business or our children. It’s here with access to arts, education and the outdoors, yet with a tight-knit community feel.”

Peterson also was attracted to the summer place she always considered home.

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