2018-08-17 / News

Progress Requires Systemic Change in Mindset, Says MEA’s Iseri

By Kevin R. Hess

Mackinac Economic Alliance Director Alex Iseri Mackinac Economic Alliance Director Alex Iseri Identifying the needs of a community and making the necessary changes to meet those needs sometimes requires a systemic change, or a change in mindset, or both, said Mackinac Economic Alliance Director Alex Iseri.

“The challenges we face did not occur overnight and they will not be solved overnight,” he said. “It may be a years-long process to realistically meet some of these needs. The key is asking what steps we can take today to work toward that.”

For example, he said, “most everyone knows housing is an issue” in Mackinac County. The challenge, however, is not simply building more or better homes, but providing a variety of options. Young people, in particular, are less likely to buy homes if they are burdened with education debts or uncertain whether an area has everything they need to settle, build a business, start a family, he said.

As a member of the St. Ignace Planning Commission, Mr. Iseri said, he has learned that restrictive zoning makes it more difficult to develop the kind of housing that can attract young people and families or keep young people in the area.

“We have to think about what we can do in the short and the long term to cultivate the right kind of change,” he said. “We want to maintain the character and lifestyle of our culture, but at the same time be willing to adapt and change in the appropriate ways to draw young entrepreneurs and families.”

Mackinac County has grown older in the last 10 to 15 years. The median age of county residents is almost 52, more than 12 years older than the state average. The alliance is striving to reverse the trend by focusing on broadband Internet access, workforce development, and housing development.

Broadband Internet access is important in developing businesses and drawing people to the area, said Mr. Iseri, because it is the easiest and fastest way to build a customer base, disperse information about business products or services, and connect with others.

“My generation assumes that everyone is on the Internet and that everyone has access, but I’ve learned that it’s not that simple, especially in rural areas like ours,” he said. “There is a lot that goes into understanding how fiber optics work and what it takes to make (access) viable and sustainable. We will continue to coordinate with our partners across the Eastern Upper Peninsula to bring broadband access into the area.”

Inconsistent Internet access also makes it more difficult for the alliance to inform people of its efforts and hear what they have to say.

“We can’t effectively meet the needs of the county if we don’t know them,” said Mr. Iseri. “Relationships with a lot of different types of people are essential. I want to learn things about the county I don’t already know.”

The alliance aims to build up the workforce by drawing new jobs to the area and creating a pipeline between employers and prospective employees. Trish Sanders, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer who has worked with the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce, will move to the alliance when her time with the chamber ends in mid-August. She will create needs assessments, networks and programs to foster and sustain job development in Mackinac County. For the past year, she has helped chamber member businesses improve their websites and social media marketing.

“We need to pursue solutions together, rather than in isolation,” said Mr. Iseri. “We want to work together to build bridges toward the future economic health of Mackinac County.”

The alliance sponsored the recent creation of the Mackinac Advocacy League, a group of professionals under the age of 50 who engage in and advocate improvements aimed at making communities in the county more attractive to young people and young families. Mr. Iseri told the Town Crier the new group provides a way for young single and married people and families to connect with one another.

To create more housing, the alliance is assessing the needs for it in each community and working toward less-restrictive zoning that allows for more varied types of dwellings and multi-use development, especially for families of new workers drawn to the area.

Mr. Iseri, who took over the administration of the Mackinac Economic Alliance in July 2017, said he has spent most of his first year learning about area needs and developing relationships. One of the most important things he has learned, he said, is the county’s work cycles. He has learned not to organize events during the heavy tourist period.

“It’s hard to do much during most of the summer because that is when people are working the most and have less disposable time,” he said. “We’re trying to maximize our effectiveness by conforming to people’s schedules so that we can involve the most people at our events.”

Trap Shoot To Raise Funds

August 25

The alliance raises money for its training sessions, workshops, and other events through private donations, fundraisers, and grants. It will hold a trap shooting fundraiser at the Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club in Engadine from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, August 25. Shooters can participate in teams or five for $125 or as individuals for $35. The cost includes clay pigeons, food, and drinks. Twelve-gauge shells will be available for purchase at the range.

The trap shoot is for any level of shooter, from beginner to expert. The club also will host a public shoot from 10 a.m. to noon. Participants must bring eye and ear protection. There will be prizes and raffles. People with questions or wanting to register can contact Mr. Iseri at (906) 430-4774 or iserialex@mackinaceconomicalliance.org. Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club is at N2769 Lake Boulevard in Engadine.

This is the first such event for the Mackinac alliance, Mr. Iseri said similar fundraisers have been successful in the northern Lower Peninsula. He hopes to raise $5,000 through the trap shoot, but he said building relationships is more important.

“An event like this will draw in a different type of audience than others we’ve done,” he said.

The trap shoot fundraiser, a goal of the former Mackinac Economic Alliance director and current executive director, Anne Ottaway, became more feasible when Mr. Iseri was hired as the director last year. Money raised will support operating costs, training, and programs. Mr. Iseri also hopes to hire an administrative assistant so he will have more time to spend building relationships in communities.

“Let’s face it, money is always going to be a need, especially in our area,” he said.

The Sportsman’s Club is providing volunteers to make sure the event is safe and to help novices during the public shoot.

“The Sportsman’s Club has been great,” said Mr. Iseri. “This is also a chance for them to promote their club, their beautiful nine-hole golf course, and to garner more interest and membership. I’m looking forward to a great event.”

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