State, local organizations gather at Michigan Works to help displaced Empire Mine workers

Small business consultant Lance Wolfe gives information on the Small Business Development Center to former Empire Mine workers Joe Collick, left, and Andy Erickson, right at Project Empire Day at Michigan Works in Marquette on Wednesday. The event was held to connect individuals affected by the indefinite idling of the Empire Mine with state and local services all accessible in one place. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Workers affected by the indefinite idling of the Empire Mine received expanded access to state resources Wednesday at Michigan Works in Marquette to help them transition to new careers

The event was part of the state’s Project Empire response plan.

Representatives from the Small Business Development Center, Northern Michigan University, Lake Superior Community Partnership and the Michigan Works mobile truck supplied computers to work with the Pure Michigan website and Lake Superior Community Partnership.

Affected miners, their families as well as business owners with concerns about the impact of the Empire Mine closure were invited to attend the event as a part of Project Empire.

The initiative was created by Gov. Rick Snyder last year to help affected workers, businesses and communities in western Marquette County.

“Our primary focus is on the workers and their families,” said Roger Curtis, director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, which is overseeing the effort. “We want to connect people with programs that can assist them in a variety of ways, from getting training for new careers to help with child care and insurance.”

Information on the Healthy Michigan health insurance plan, the MI Bridges program where individuals can apply for health coverage, food assistance, cash assistance or emergency services, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, as well as assistance available for homeowners through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority was made available to the miners.

The event included access to all Michigan Works re-employment services in order to assess skills, assist in resume writing and more.

The event also provided attendees help in connecting to the Pure Michigan Talent Connect and State of Michigan job posting sites.

Lake Superior Community Partnership discussed potential opportunities across the Upper Peninsula. Northern Michigan University staff was on hand to help displaced workers research available training opportunities.

The Michigan Small Business Development Center staff provided expert assistance at no cost to the workers who might be interested in starting or growing a business.

SBDC Business Consultant Lance Wolfe said the organization provides one-on-one business consultation services to all types of businesses including start-ups, existing businesses and people who want to buy and sell.

“Two of the miners have already worked with the SBDC to purchase existing businesses,” Wolf said. “We basically hang our hat on assisting people with their business plan and their financials.”

Laura Marohnic, regional director of SBDC, said the organization is also applying for a $100,000 portability grant from the U.S. Small Business Association related to the Empire Mine closure.

“It’s not done yet,” Marohnic said. “If it’s approved, it will allow us to develop some curriculum to help the small businesses affected, both the suppliers, services and the retail stores affected.”

David Murray, deputy director of communications for the Michigan Talent and Economic Development Department, said more than 240 affected Empire Mine employees have enrolled in Michigan Works services so far, with about 100 either enrolled in training for new careers, or starting classes in the summer or fall at Northern Michigan University, Michigan Tech University and Bay College.

“It’s good to connect the folks with a wide variety of services,” Murray said. “Some folks might not be aware that there is small business assistance, for example Michigan Works does a great job, but workers might not know everything that’s out there. This is a real hands-on connection with them. I am thrilled with what Michigan Works does on a daily basis, and today they have reached out, and this is the result.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is