Chamber holds virtual “State of the Community”

March 3, 2022

Chamber holds virtual “State of the Community”

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The Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce held its “State of the Community” event virtually Wednesday to discuss the current business climate of Mason County. 

Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Brandy Miller noted that 2021 was a period of renewal and recovery from the pandemic with favorable boosts, including $500,000 in grant relief funding distributed in Mason County, 500 units of personal protective equipment delivered, and area businesses finding creative ways to stay in operation in spite of COVID-19 constraints.

Also of note, the Chamber recently created a partnership with The Right Place, Greater Grand Rapids’ leading economic development organization, which offers comprehensive business assistance services to growing companies. The Right Place works to drive sustainable growth in Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo and Oceana counties.

Randy Thelen, president/CEO of The Right Place, provided the “State of the Region” with current trends projecting a “really optimistic outlook even with strong, resistant headwinds.”

His survey of 422 businesses in the region indicated:

  • 79 percent reporting an increase in sales.
  • 63 percent reporting expansion plans.
  • 52 percent increasing investment training.
  • 94 percent said the region’s business competitiveness is “very good” or “good.”

Of the surveyed companies, though, 59 percent reported recruitment challenges. And, according to Thelen’s report, COVID-19 impacts include higher unemployment rates: 7,945 are currently without work in the region, and 33,000 have left the workforce.

“That’s 41,000 people across our region not working today,” Thelen said. “That’s troubling – and it’s more or less the same across the country.”

TaRita Johnson, senior vice president of talent & diversity at The Right Place, said this is a matter of tapping into a pipeline of young people. 

“We have a lot of things going for us in our state,” Johnson said, “cost of living and quality of living… and we are in a mecca of colleges and universities.

“As the number of high school diplomas grows, this is a pipeline. How can we have a direct link  to West Shore Community College from K-12… to get into the schools to talk about college, internships, shadowing, all the way to four-year college. Get them education in the best way for them.”

Both Thelen and Johnson spoke of leveraging placemaking: using Mason County’s natural resources, educational opportunities, jobs, and culture to attract workers to the area.

“We need robust internships and to rotate people throughout organizations,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to capture this young talent so they know there are opportunities.

“We need to look at how to engage them inside of our organizations and in the community. What’s of value to them? Are we putting them on boards and giving them a seat at the table so they feel their voice is heard and they are invested?”

The State of the Community event also featured a local panel that discussed economic development in Mason County and some of the challenges that have presented themselves.

The panelists were Eric Erwin, president/CEO of FloraCraft Corp.; Monica Schuyler, executive director of Pennies from Heaven; Scott Ward, president of West Shore Community College; and Lynn Russell, executive director of United Way of Mason County.

Consistently, challenges that have been identified as obstacles to employment in the area include transportation, affordable housing, childcare, workforce attraction and retention, and poverty. Broadband internet was added to that list in 2021, as many found themselves working from home or completing school assignments during the pandemic.

The panel collectively spoke of collaborating to remove barriers to employment and education attainment, as well as assisting people in envisioning and achieving higher aspirations.

To view a recording of  the 2022 State of the Community in its entirety, visit www.ludington.org/state-of-the-community-2/

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