With extensive background in marketing and branding,
Ian Repp could have easily remained in glittery L.A. or pursued a high salary job in some other big city.
Instead, Repp, who began his career as a writer and designer and worked for a few years as a writer and production assistant in L.A., chose the remote Keweenaw Peninsula.
Ian Repp hiking with his older boys, Cale, 13, and Crosby, 9, at the north entry of the Keweenaw Waterway.
“I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s pretty amazing,” says Repp, who is associate vice president for university and marketing communications at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. “It’s a great place to raise kids. We love the outdoors as a family. We take lots of hikes. We love it up here.”
Repp landed in L.A. right out of college. He worked as a writer’s assistant for a production company, helping out with such films as “Bewitched,” “Memoirs of a Geisha'' and “Jarhead.” When he became engaged to his future wife, Jennifer, the couple decided to leave California.
“We were ready to go,” he says. “I still wanted to do meaningful work but we didn’t want to live in L.A. forever. We planned on having kids in the future, and we knew we were going to want to raise them somewhere else.”
For a short time, that somewhere else was his native Indiana, where Repp worked as executive creative director for an Indianapolis-based marketing agency. But the couple, now with two children, wanted to be away from suburban life.
“We wanted a change,” he recalls. “Our children were young enough -- 18 months and 4 years old -- that we weren’t uprooting them. We knew we wanted a change in the environment where we were raising our kids.”
Ian Repp fly fishing on the Pilgrim River.
Repp wanted to remain in marketing and communication, but he also had an interest in higher education. His Indianapolis agency had worked with some higher education clients, and he had grown up in a college town -- Muncie, Ind., home of Ball State University. Working in a college town appealed to him; he also was interested in working in-house with an educational institution, rather than as a vendor.
In his search for a job in college towns in the Midwest and elsewhere, he came across a posting for Michigan Technological University. He applied, eventually interviewing and landing the job at MTU.
“I had never been to Houghton, but it looked like a college town,” he says, “And I connected with Lake Superior. I thought it would be so wild to live near Lake Superior.”
That connection to Lake Superior stemmed from his childhood. His family spent two weeks every summer at a cabin on Lake Superior in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. Although he had never ventured to the western U.P. until arriving at Houghton, he says, “I had a real affinity for Lake Superior.”
“For me to think that -- as a 12-year-old - I would eventually get to live near Lake Superior -- that would have been a dream come true.” he says. “It’s unbelievable.”
Repp has been smitten with the Keweenaw Peninsula and the lifestyle the region offers since the family’s arrival.
“When I came to move up here and drove across the Mackinac Bridge and headed west for the first time, I was in awe,” he recalls. “It was pretty rural and nothing much until you got to Marquette … and then driving to the Keweenaw Peninsula, there were more trees than I could ever imagine, especially for someone coming from Indiana where you see farmland all the time.”
Repp is among a growing number of people who have relocated to the Upper Peninsula for jobs, drawn by the quality of life, access to the abundant outdoors and affordability. Some have remained after working remotely during the pandemic. Others have been lured by career fairs and efforts by organizations such as the MTEC SmartZone of Houghton and Remote Workforce Keweenaw.
“I think the pandemic expedited people’s discoveries of other areas,” Repp says, noting tourism had a big impact on the U.P. “We know people who moved here and are working remotely as well. They did it for the same reasons we did -- to raise our family.”
Ian Repp hiking the Slate River Falls with his older sons.
The Repp family has embraced the outdoors, hiking, biking, skiing and camping. “If you want to have the outdoors at your feet, you can’t beat this,” Repp says. “I can work all day and then ski in the evening on a Tuesday in the winter. Or I can meet my family on the beach in July for a few hours. Compare that to some place like Colorado where you may have skiing, but you don’t have beaches.”
At Michigan Technological University, Repp leads a team of 29 university marketing and communications staff, including strategists, designers, writers, multimedia and printing service specialists. Essentially, Repp is managing the brand of the university to connect and engage the public, community and students.
He and his wife have settled into life in Houghton, where Jennifer works as a fourth-grade teacher. Repp can walk or ride his bike to the university in the summer, and frequently takes runs from his office during the day, taking advantage of the university’s wooded trails. “It’s my moment of Zen,” he says. “I come back to the office with lots of inspiration. I am more productive because I have access to the outdoors.”
Although Houghton is home to just under 9,000 people, the community benefits from its ties to Michigan Technological University.
Michigan Technological University in Houghton.
“There are a lot of smart people up here doing some fantastic work,” he points out. “There’s some really heady stuff in our community. You can be in the grocery store and overhear people talking about rocket propulsion. It’s such a unique thing and totally Houghton. It sticks out.”
“Amazing people work here,” he says. “The type of research that is being done is phenomenal. The work (MTU) is doing in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, in our small, rural, community is pretty remarkable. You rarely get both of these dynamics in one place. It’s just a great place.”