Blue water appeal drawing new residents to St. Clair County

The first time Lindsay Wallace stepped foot in Port Huron was for a job interview six years ago, and she hasn't looked back since.

"The first impression of it was a gorgeous summer day and I think that's what got me," she says. "I really haven't regretted it. Every year I'm here it's just more reason to stay."
"I'm likely going to be here forever now,"
Matt Gregor


Lindsay WallaceWallace, a transportation planner for St. Clair County, grew up north of Grand Rapids and worked in Colorado and Illinois before getting homesick and deciding to look for a job in Michigan. Though she didn't have any previous ties to Port Huron, the area has "pretty much become home," she says.

"A lot of it is the people that I've met. I'm part of the (Blue Water) Young Professionals and I think that really helped me get in touch with people with like minds. I think that really helped a lot," says Wallace, adding that she also loves the water, activities and festivals in the area. "I love that it's a smaller community; that's where my roots come from."

She's not the only young professional wooed by the area's fresh water, amenities and close-knit community. While many families have lived in St. Clair County for generations, other people are just putting down roots after moving to the area for work.

Rafe MacKenzie, 29, lives in Marysville and works as a research and development chemist at Cargill in St. Clair. He decided to move here about four years ago because he liked the job opportunity as well as the area.

"The river is just an amazing resource, there's woods all over the place, the cost of living is relatively cheap which plays a big role," he says. "Even proximity to the city I think is still nice. Because I never want to live in Detroit, but being 45 minutes to an hour from pretty much anything I'd want to do in the city is very nice and convenient."

MacKenzie grew up in Houghton Lake and worked in Ohio as well as Midland before landing in St. Clair County. He says the hardest part of every move is trying to integrate into groups of people who grew up and still live in area. He joined Blue Water Young Professionals, which has helped him connect with both natives and newbies, such as Matt Gregor.
 
"Every year I'm here it's just more reason to stay."
Lindsay Wallace
A business opportunity brought Gregor to Port Huron and he quickly fell in love with the area.

"I'm likely going to be here forever now," says Gregor, who moved here two and a half years ago for his job with Axa Advisors. A couple of Port Huron-based agents at the insurance and financial services firm were retiring so Gregor and his business partner moved up from the Troy area to continue serving their clients.

"I like the smaller town feel," says Gregor, who grew up in Sterling Heights. "I'm not all about that metro Detroit life with the traffic. I like that I don't have a commute."

He says he also likes the people and sense of community in the Port Huron area, along with the proximity to the waterfront.Matt Gregor
Gregor has worked in Lansing, Las Vegas, San Diego, Madison Heights and St. Clair Shores since he graduated from college in 2010. His time in Port Huron is the longest he's lived anywhere since graduation, and he says it's the first place that's felt like home.

Port Huron and the surrounding area has a lot to offer young professionals and entrepreneurs, according to Thelma Castillo, president and CEO of the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce. Castillo came to the chamber in 2014 and previously worked for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce for 18 years.

In addition to its location on the water and drivability to Detroit, the area is connected to the interstate and the Canadian market, offering entrepreneurs opportunities to grow their businesses within both small and large markets, Castillo says.

"We're small enough that you still know all the players that you need to connect with to help grow your business … and it's also just about the people in general," she says. "A lot of people have lived their whole life here as well and they want their community to be success."
 
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