MARQUETTE - Upper Peninsula artists, artisans, and producers now have access to a new showcase and marketplace thanks to a new startup business and online sales venue.
The website, www.miupperhand.com, extends the sphere of sales for goods made in the U.P., builds local businesses and supports independent livelihoods for the creative class who wish to continue to live and work in the Upper Peninsula. The company seeks to connect with displaced Yoopers and their friends around the world who value beautiful or functional reminders of the unique U.P. experience and style.
Visitors to the site can will discover a range of high quality products such as original artwork, prints, jewelry, housewares, food, unique T-shirts, fiber arts, books, downloadable music and more from local artisans and performers. The site is also a showcase of local talent, offering compelling photographs and stories about the artists and producers, their individual creative processes, and the special place in which they all live and work.
The idea for this venture originated in casual conversation among a small, informal community brainstorming group. The idea was so captivating that the group evolved into a committed network of social entrepreneurs whose mission is to support the creative class in the Upper Peninsula.
"We met with local artists to learn more about the challenges they face in turning their passions into practical livelihoods. From these conversations we created a business model that will extend their effective sales reach, increase sales volume, and reduce the hassle, time and expense associated with marketing and delivering goods," said Jerry Peterson, board member of MIUpperHand.
Consistent with its mission to support local jobs, MIUpperHand has already generated one new full-time position by hiring Jason Schneider as general manager.
"In making a purchase through miupperhand.com, those who have come to know and love the U.P. can contribute to the local economy and viability of this place no matter where they live," Schneider said.
Web designer Ben Johnson of Elegant Seagulls has been subcontracted to design the logo and website, and continuously implement search engine optimization procedures. Jenna Prince, who describes her art as writing, will generate customized profiles and introductions to the production process for each vendor on the site, allowing customers to "get to know" the creator. Terry Dehring, owner of Quick Trophy, a local web-based business, is handling packaging and shipping functions. Local CPA and board member Patrick Thomson is in charge of company financials and accounting procedures. Local attorney Jeremy Pickens provides legal services. In this way, MIUpperHand contributes to the viability of existing local businesses.
The business is unique in that funding is provided through the enthusiastic support of a group of community-minded investors who believe in the mission to improve the viability of independent livelihoods in the region.
"We have received nothing but positive feedback from our focus group meetings with artists and investors," said Stu Bradley, chairman of the MIUpperHand board. "This idea is not a new one, but we have been able to pull the right group of people together at the right time to make this happen."
"This is truly a community collaboration," said Nheena Weyer Ittner, board member and originator of the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum in Marquette. Ittner oversees relations with the artisans that utilize the site.
"We showcase a diversity of items that may include one-of-a kind or limited edition pieces, special product lines available only on the website, regional foods, handmade items, local music or books. There will always be new things to discover at MIUpperHand."
"Being a closet artist myself, I am so impressed by the passion and commitment of the artists and product designers who take the big step of believing in their talents and trying to make it work in a competitive world," said Kelly Drake, board member in charge of information and marketing. "I am really excited to be a part of the community partnership this project represents."
The leadership of MIUpperHand hopes that the website will be such a success that the artists and producers will need to expand their operations and mentor people to assist them. The company also intends to donate a portion of the proceeds to the purchase of public art to enhance Upper Peninsula communities. With a for-profit business model, this project provides value and benefit to everyone, including the producers, customers, investors, employees, and subcontractors. MIUpperHand leadership is counting on Yoopers to spread the word about this new opportunity to support local businesses while purchasing super Yooper goods.