Marquette economic organizations celebrate milestones

The Lake Superior Community Partnership turns ten this year, the Marquette Community Foundation is twenty and the Economic Club of Marquette County is thirty. These milestones represent thousands of hours of work with one goal—preserving an outstanding way of life by providing economic opportunities in Marquette County.
The three will join together to celebrate their respective anniversaries and collaborative spirit at the Partnership’s March 10 Business After Hours in the Great Lakes Rooms at Northern Michigan University.
“This is an excellent collaboration between three distinct organizations working for the community and representing thirty years of economic thought and growth in the area,” said Bob Cowell, president of the Marquette Community Foundation. “All three have the same goal, with slightly different ways of going about it.”
With $1,400 and a dream, the foundation was incorporated on June 27, 1988. Founding members believed in the community’s future and wanted to build something that would encourage both growth and community involvement.
Legend has it that one of the founders was in Midland and came across a news article about an area community foundation. He liked the idea and brought it back to Marquette. There must have been something to the idea, because twenty years later the foundation and its affiliates, the Greater Ishpeming Area Community Fund, the Negaunee Area Community Fund and the Gwinn Area Community Fund, are stronger than ever. The foundation had more than $8 million in assets from investments and donations at the end of 2006 and had dispersed grants and scholarships totaling $1.4 million to area nonprofits and students.
“We’re excited to be part of this celebration with the Marquette Community Foundation and the Economic Club of Marquette County,” said Gregg Nominelli, economic development specialist at the Partnership. “We’re pleased with the progress we’ve seen in the past, and we eagerly engage in creating community and economic prosperity in 2008 and for the future.”
The Partnership, which has 850 members, was formed in 1997 as the successor to the Marquette Jobs Coalition formed in the early ’80s in response to mining issues that threatened jobs. The group was called upon again in 1995 when K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base was put on the military’s chopping block. The base’s ultimate closure led members to believe a permanent, active group was needed.
The Jobs Coalition brought together community leaders representing labor, industry, business, religion, education, nonprofits, media and government and became the Lake Superior Community Partnership.
“The idea behind the partnership is to eliminate duplication of effort and waste, so the county gets a bigger bang for the buck,” said Dennis Smith of the U.P. Health Plan and Economic Club president. “It seems to be working,”
The Economic Club was founded in 1977 to provide a social network setting to create awareness of important economic issues.
“We’re celebrating the longevity of the business community’s collaborative efforts in Marquette County,” Smith said. “It’s a great relationship. The Econ Club provides the conduit, the Partnership helps expand and strengthen our economic base and the Foundation helps us give back to the community.”
The club holds eight dinners per year featuring a wide range of speakers from former hostage and humanitarian Terry Waite, to U.P. university presidents Dr. Rodney Lowman of Lake Superior State University, Dr. Les Wong of Northern Michigan University and Dr. Glen Mroz of Michigan Technological University. The three presidents will speak at the March 17 dinner.
“The Econ Club started as a chance to get together for dinner and hear someone talk about relevant issues, and it’s still going strong,” Smith said.
The club’s 100-plus members come from all over Marquette County and represent a wide array of businesses and services. With this kind of participation, it’s not hard to imagine the behind-the-scenes influence the club has.
For example, Stu Bradley of Edward Jones, who sits on all three boards, attended an event that featured Robert McNulty, president and CEO of Partners for Livable Communities. Bradley had the chance to talk to McNulty about regionalism and working across city and township boundaries to improve the economic health of a region like Marquette County.
“Next thing you know McNulty is speaking to the Econ Club and Marquette County is on the way to becoming one of America’s 30 Most Livable Communities (2004),” Bradley said. “A distinction that makes marketing our extended community that much easier.”
The distinction as an All America County and one of the 30 Most Livable Communities in America helped when trying to obtain status as one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People award from America’s Promise, said Ann Gonyea, director of marketing and communications for the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development.
Marquette and Alger counties have received the award three years in a row. Receiving the All America County designation was the result of a collaborative effort between the partnership and the foundation and other organizations and committed citizens.
Gonyea is a member of the Economic Club board and a 2006 graduate of the Partnership’s Leadership Academy.
“The networking and collaboration opportunities facilitated by these three organizations may be unique in the United States today,” Gonyea said. “It gives us a definite advantage when it comes to attracting young professionals to the area.”
All three of these groups are county-wide and bring together nineteen townships, three cities and seven school districts, along with multiple private and public sector organizations. This reach facilitates regional thinking, planning and development.
The link between local governments, schools and business led to a $90,000 Regional Skills Alliance grant to fund modules for the career and technical education program at Westwood High School. Bradley said Cleveland Cliffs was asked what it needed in the realm of skilled labor. The response led to Westwood’s expanded vocational program and the RSA grant.
So how will these organizations celebrate their success and longevity?
The March 10 Business After Hours event at NMU will celebrate 30/20/10 in honor of the Economic Club, the foundation and the partnership. The organizations will have drawings at the event including prizes such as two free memberships to the Economic Club, two $500 “name the fund” opportunities from the foundation and two airline tickets from the partnership. Watch for additional events as 2008 progresses.
This modest celebration will complement, but not represent, the sense of accomplishment members and staff deserve to feel.
David Luoma, MD, CEO of the Upper Peninsula Health Education Corporation and Econ Club board member, said UPHEC recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary and it was a very proud moment for its alumni and staff.
“It’s great to see that kind of enthusiasm with other organizations in the community reaching milestones,” Luoma said.
UPHEC, which manages the Marquette Family Medicine Residency and the U.P. campus of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, recruits residents, students and faculty physicians from around the globe.
“The young professionals we try to bring to the region are, by-and-large, very community minded,” Luoma said. “The way the Econ Club’s activities dovetail with the Foundation and Partnership highlights community involvement and that has proven very effective in recruiting students, residents, faculty and their families into our community.”
The young professionals UPHEC is trying to bring to the area have varied interests, but most have an affinity for the outdoors. They are young people who like to hunt, fish, ski, kayak, hike and bike. Marquette County’s many outdoor activities certainly are a draw.
Luoma expects the Heritage Trail project, which is building steam, to be an excellent recruitment tool and a great recreational resource for the community. The partnership is working to plan and implement the project, while the foundation, with its partners in Negaunee and Ishpeming, is helping to fund it.
But Marquette is about more than just outdoor activities. The community has outstanding cultural and family activities to offer. Over the years, the Econ Club, foundation and partnership have seen the importance of such activities and helped to support them. For example, the foundation helped launch Superior Pipes and Drums, led by bagpipe instructor Gregg McGregor.
In 2006 alone the foundation issued $90,662.26 in grants and scholarships, ranging from grants to the Marquette Symphony Orchestra Association to the Powell Township Ambulance Service.
All three of these organizations help to support Marquette County’s economic health. They, along with the many other local, county and regional organizations, help to create a standard of living and lifestyle that encourages entrepreneurship, independence, the arts and outdoor recreation.
Their goals interconnect and are reflected in the partnership’s mission statement:
The mission of the Lake Superior Community Partnership is to cause sustainable economic growth and engender opportunities that are consistent with, and that promote one of America’s best lifestyles—the Marquette County lifestyle.

—Larry Alexander

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