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SmartZone to participate in Rural Innovation Initiative

MARQUETTE — Rural Innovation Strategies Inc. announced that the Innovate Marquette SmartZone has been chosen in a competitive process to participate in the 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative, a technical assistance program supporting rural communities working to create digital economy jobs with an innovation hub strategy.

The Rural Innovation Initiative is made possible through a cooperative agreement between RISI and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

“Marquette is already well known as a great place to visit and retire, but it also has the potential to be a center of tech-powered innovation, entrepreneurship and jobs,” said Matt Dunne, executive director of RISI and founder of the Center on Rural Innovation, in a news release. “There’s an opportunity to build a digital economy ecosystem in Marquette and small towns like it across the country because in the age of the internet, innovation is not limited to cities or the coasts.”

Ray Johnson, CEO of Innovate Marquette SmartZone, said in a news release: “We have a strong foundation to build on with the work our Marquette SmartZone, in partnership with Invent@NMU, has been doing over the last five years. We’ve created a lot of momentum to capitalize on with new organizations and initiatives in our eco-system that include Northern Michigan University’s Cybersecurity Institute, the region-wide Marshall Plan for Talent grant to advance cybersecurity education and regional economic development organizations like InvestUP.

“Partnering with these organizations and additional regional stakeholders, including other U.P. SmartZones and public and private entities, helps Marquette and the greater Upper Peninsula region position itself as a model for how rural America can come together to catalyze growth, opportunity, and economic prosperity by helping to create new and support existing tech-based and tech-enabled businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators.”

LucidCoast, LLC founder Keith Glendon said in a news release: “We are excited to work directly with the Marquette SmartZone on this Initiative as a key partner. The U.P. has a long history of innovators and entrepreneurs who helped the region thrive at the turn of the 20th century. We’re looking to harness the same gritty determination and direct it towards cutting edge business and job opportunities that will allow our kids to stay here or move back and enjoy a great lifestyle while also participating in the state, national, and global economy.

“As one of those kids who grew up here and spent close to 20 years trying to find a way back while working all over the world, I have a deep passion for opening our region to more balanced and sustainable economic opportunities. We’re being strategic about our industry focus areas and choosing those that balance our more traditional industries like tourism and mining. Right now, and in the years and decades ahead of us, tens of millions of jobs and whole new industries are being built on new economy innovations. Here in the U.P., that trend offers us exciting ways to sustain our way of life and our unique communities and environment.”

The Rural Innovation Initiative aligns directly with InvestUP’s mission to drive business and job growth across the Upper Peninsula, said Marty Fittante, CEO of InvestUP, in a news release.

“InvestUP has been working closely with Innovate Marquette and other partners across the UP in our mission and we’re excited to participate in making the most of this opportunity for our communities, businesses and the future of the Upper Peninsula,” Fittante said.

Innovate Marquette SmartZone and other Rural Innovation Initiative participants will receive a range of support, from on-site and video conference time with RISI staff to opportunities for collaboration with similarly motivated communities, as well as templates and written resources as they execute an innovation hub strategy: an economic development model that works to educate and train local residents in digital skills, employ them in new economy jobs and empower them to launch the startups that will drive their digital economies.

RISI will work with Innovate Marquette SmartZone and other participants to identify and prepare for federal and other funding opportunities that fit their unique attributes and goals. Some 2020 Rural Innovation Initiative communities may choose to apply for federal funding opportunities like the Regional Innovation Strategies program this year if they raise up to $750,000 in matching funds in the first half of the year, while others will focus first on establishing plans and partnerships to build their digital economy strategies.

Participants will also have access to significant technical assistance to refine their economic development strategies, help them identify partnerships, and leverage existing resources.