Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 14, 2013

Editorial: Leelanau situated to lure young people


---- — If Leelanau County figures out a way to create more full-time, year-round, good-paying jobs that don't harm the county's environment or ambience they need to share the secret with the rest of us.

While that seems a daunting task, give county leaders credit for taking on an issue that has stymied efforts over the years to create a year-round economy.

Since European settlers moved into the region in the 1800s, there hasn't much of a formal economy in Leelanau (and much of northern Michigan) beyond lumbering, agriculture and tourism. And the timber industry is long gone.

Cherry farming is still the agricultural backbone, though the wine industry has made major inroads. There are now dozens of vineyards across the region and the number of wineries has exploded. A reputation for quality wines is growing.

Beyond that, though, the county's economy is mostly tourism-related, and for good reason. Leelanau is virtually surrounded by Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay and is home to a big hunk of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, dubbed the most beautiful place in the country by Good Morning America. Sleeping Bear had record attendance in 2012 and the summer economy boomed.

While tourism provides hundreds of jobs, many of them don't pay particularly well and they are, by definition, seasonal.

County leaders are trying to do something about that, starting with a long, hard look at the county's Economic Development Board.

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners was to discuss a complete revamp of Leelanau County's economic development strategy; county Administrator Chet Janik wants the EDB and the county board to outline a strategic plan by June 1.

Janik outlined some promising suggestions, including new tax policies to lure appropriate businesses and improving broadband infrastructure. Leelanau seems a perfect place for entrepreneurial startups like the ones revolutionizing fields such as robotics and what Janik called "clean applied technology."

Those kinds of firms rely heavily on high-tech connections to the rest of the planet that allow them to exist almost anywhere. If Leelanau wants to have a presence in that field, big-league wireless and broadband investments are a must.

The county could also work to lure firms looking at new ways to use existing agricultural products or companies doing work in the renewable, alternate energy fields.

The county already boasts the laid-back, family-friendly, outdoor-oriented lifestyle many young entrepreneurs are seeking; the hard work will be to create a climate that meets their business and personal needs.