Movers and shakers make new growth happen for the U.P.

Some of the most important things that happen in the U.P. economy are more or less behind the scenes. A new business opening is amazing news -- and we have lots of those to talk about this month! -- but it's the result of many small steps before that, and usually a huge support network along the way. This week, we're looking at some of those small steps, like new hires, business loans, state grants and location upgrades.


Northern Initiatives makes its thousandth loan


Northern Initiatives has been a big part of the Upper Peninsula small business startup world since its own opening in 1992. Last month, it announced it had made its 1000th loan to a small northern Michigan business, Drone Services in Kalkaska.


The small business lending program was started by Northern Michigan University 25 years ago, and started making loans to small businesses two years later, in line with its mission of "building more diverse and resilient rural communities."


Dennis West, Northern Initiatives president, says the demand and volume of their small business loans gives proof of a strong entrepreneurial culture in the U.P. and northern Michigan.


"Northern Initiatives has been lending to entrepreneurs and small business owners, almost exclusively in rural markets, with nearly 70 percent of those loans in the Upper Peninsula," says West. "One-third of our loans have funded start-up businesses. What distinguishes our work is access to capital, coupled with knowledge-building services; including accounting and marketing support. Our average loan size is $57,000, so our impacts have been both broad and deep in terms of coaching customers."


The loan to Drone Services will provide working capital to help the aerial data collecting business grow and meet market demand, according to owners John and Barb Hulwick.


mBank taps new senior VP


mBank, one of the mainstays of the U.P. financial economy, has announced that it has named a new senior vice president for branch administration and sales, Erin McCormick.


McCormick will be working out of the Eagle River, Wisconsin branch of mBank (part of the Manistique-based bank's recent acquisitions) and will oversee sales growth and administration for all of the 23 mBank branch locations across Michigan and Wisconsin. His goal will be to focus on profitability and efficiency across the branches.


mBank says McCormick comes to the role with more than 23 years of experience in banking, including 18 years in management and senior management roles. His expertise includes developing customer-centric sales programs and ways to maximize value for both customers and the bank, as well as expanding current client relationships and looking for more business opportunities.


Munising's Johnny Dogs moves to new location


Summer is gone, and Munising's Johnny Dogs restaurant is taking advantage of the slow time in a seasonal town to move to a new location.


Formerly on Lynn Street in Munising, the diner that serves up gourmet hot dogs, sandwiches and other American-fusion specialties is moving a few blocks away to Superior Street, still in downtown Munising.


The new address was formerly a Chinese restaurant, and owner John Flanders says the move will entail an interior remodel and renovation, which is now underway. He hopes to be re-opened by the end of the year and start out 2018 in the new location, which offers more space, an outdoor deck, and more room to grow as the business grows.


MSHDA funds blight reduction projects in the U.P.


The Michigan State Housing Development Authority announced a slate of 19 projects across the state that will receive blight reduction or demolition funding this fall.


In the U.P., four projects were funded for residential or commercial blight elimination. The projects will be administrated by local units of government or county land banks, and were chosen because they met goals such as improved public safety, stabilized property values, or support of already-in-progress demolitions. Each building selected was vacant, publicly-owned, and met criteria for blight.


In Alger County, the Alger County Land Bank Authority was granted $57,791 to demolish the former Longbranch Saloon in Trenary, which has been condemned and vacant for years. Once the building comes down, the Trenary Northern Trails Snowmobile Club has made a commitment to develop the site into a new trail access hub. The club will use the hub as a spearhead for their trail project, including car and snowmobile parking, trail maintenance equipment storage, and a multi-use warming facility.


The Baraga County Land Bank Authority was granted $26,000 to demolish a vacant four-unit residential property in L'Anse. The property was described as "in a state of abject and total despair" with no renovations possible, in a residential area. Once it's cleared of the ramshackle building, the empty lot will be re-sold on auction.


In Ishpeming and Negaunee, the Marquette County Land Bank Authority will use funding of $138,000 to demolish nine residential structures. Two are located near Ishpeming's middle school and high school, with four more in Ishpeming's Inspiration Zone, a neighborhood that is fighting to reduce crime, blight and improve infrastructure. Three additional residential buildings will be demolished in Negaunee.


Schoolcraft County was given a grant of $106,000 to use in Manistique and Germfask Township. The money will go to demolish six dilapidated properties that the county describes as "detriments to neighborhood stabilization and tourism." The buildings went through tax foreclosure and are now owned by the county, with the goal of demolishing them to increase public safety and encourage economic development.

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