Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 18, 2013

Doug Luciani: Small-town leaders making big difference

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Record-Eagle has recently reported on efforts by local communities outside of Traverse City where leaders are taking a hands-on approach toward building the economy in their own backyards.

And well it should.

From Kalkaska County to the village of Kingsley up to the Benzie area, community leaders are rolling up their sleeves to fill community store fronts, seek clean technologies to create jobs, build commercial and residential tax base and find new markets for northern Michigan’s unique product mix. These communities have something else in common: Their leaders reached out in various degrees for assistance from the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce serving our multi-county region.

Together we’re working with residents, property owners and other community stakeholders to craft local economic growth strategies. Some still question the impact that communities can have on their own economic destinies. They are content to let larger market forces prevail and let the chips fall where they may. In many instances that “strategy” has led to a wide disparity of economic conditions across our region. Some commercial districts are thriving, but parts of others have lagged behind, devoid of the critical mass that, even on a small scale, can make the difference between a town that’s on the upswing or dying on the vine.

It’s no coincidence that local areas best at building economic growth utilize people – and resources – solely dedicated to that effort, usually in a public/private partnership. They work together every day to recruit businesses, plan out needed public infrastructure, promote and maintain their communities, and take other necessary steps for a comprehensive local growth strategy.

Not all communities have the resources to do that critical work. That’s where organizations like the Traverse Bay EDC help fill the void, offering knowledge, experience and human resources necessary to create and implement attainable and effective growth strategies.

Fortunately, our area communities have a lot to build on. Kalkaska has available industrial space and a rail system offering significant potential to spur economic growth. Kingsley offers affordable family living and recreational amenities. Benzie County boasts a diverse and educated population and abundant outdoor attractions. Each has available infrastructure capacity and boasts solid schools.

It’s past time to turn those resources into opportunities, both for the immediate future and generations to come. If done right, the benefits to the region’s economy will extend well beyond those municipal borders.

It’s good to see the stories of local communities where residents have the foresight and political will to go beyond their traditional routines and be pro-active about creating unique economies that will make a difference today and beyond.

After all, everyone enjoys a story with a happy ending.

Doug Luciani is President & CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him by email at