Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 6, 2013

Doug Luciani: New year, new opportunities

By Doug Luciani, Local columnnist
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---- — A new year is a good time to assess accomplishments, and to ponder the challenges that lie ahead.

There are plenty of reasons to feel good about northern Michigan looking back at 2012. Despite the steep economic challenges in Michigan over the past decade, many regional economic indicators showed marked improvement.

The region's jobless rate fell below 8 percent this fall, its lowest level since before the recession of 2008-09. While that reflects in part a shrinking labor pool, there's little doubt the job market has turned the corner and is trending in the right direction.

Several area businesses expanded operations, created jobs and delved into new markets or product lines, some with the help of the Chamber of Commerce, Northwest Michigan Business Atlas partners and state and local governments.

The local housing market experienced its best sales year in nearly a decade. Home prices continue to lag behind the prices in 2006 before the housing bubble burst, but average and median home sale prices are moving in the right direction. The construction sector is also starting to grow again.

The region enjoyed a monster tourism year — some say the best ever. The Traverse City area continues to appear on a plethora of "Best Of"¦" lists, raising the area's national profile to unprecedented levels.

None of these things happen by accident, nor do they occur in a vacuum.

Organizations like local chambers, CVBs, economic support organizations and many others are working hard to increase business and job opportunities, promote the area and bolster our economy.

It's an effort that never ends, and those groups need the support of their members and the public to build on 2012's positive momentum.

But a glass half full means there are additional opportunities — and challenges — down the road. One major issue not resolved in 2012 was fixing the parts of our public school system that are obsolete and are putting our young people at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy.

We also need to help our agriculture community rebound from the disastrous growing season of 2012. The chamber made a commitment this year to expand the use of local foods, goods and services at its events, and urged other organizations to do the same.

Growing those efforts now in 2013 will not only help agriculture, but the expanding network of individuals, companies and nonprofits working to expand the local food network.

There's plenty to feel good about as we begin a new year. But there's a lot left on the table to accomplish. Let's make it another year of achievements — and fill our glasses all the way.

Doug Luciani is president and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Traverse City Economic Development Corporation.