MANCELONA — Mancelona was born of manufacturing, but it may not be its future.
Logging, iron works plants and auto parts manufacturers built the area since it was founded in the 1870s, but those industries have dwindled and so has Mancelona’s economy.
Dura Automotive Manufacturing was this Antrim County community’s last big employer. Dura closed in 2008 and left 300 people without jobs.
“Dura was, in my opinion, the icing on the cake,” said Ron Aldrich, manager of the Ellsworth Farmers Exchange in Mancelona. “It was a big blow to the area.”
Census data reflect Mancelona’s hardships. Unemployment jumped from five percent in 2000 to 18.8 in 2012, while the statewide rate was 12.6 in 2012. Impoverished families with children more than doubled in those years, from 15.6 percent in 2000 to 32.5 percent in 2012. Statewide, only 19.2 percent were considered impoverished.
The people still living and working in Mancelona learned to adjust. Brian Scott and Karl Paul, owners of Mancelona Hardware and Rental, stocked parts local manufacturers often needed when they bought the store in 1985. Most of their customers are now homeowners who need materials for every job.
“We just try to keep finding niches,” Scott said. “Ink cartridges, guitar strings, a flower shop.”
The area itself is looking for a niche and seems to be left with two options: manufacturing or tourism. Jan Kellogg, Economic Development Specialist for the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, is optimistic about the area’s future. Mancelona is right on a major highway, has room for businesses to locate and is a community ready for change.
“It’s just going to take the right combination of efforts locally and at the state level and everywhere to bring things together,” Kellogg said.
Aldrich said Mancelona needs to find a way to draw tourists, but doesn’t know how leaders can do so without a lake or river.