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‘Illustrative of Marquette’

Operation Action U.P. holds 54th annual meeting

Tawni Ferrarini, left, and Brett French, far right, co-chairs of Operation Action U.P.’s board of directors, present the Upper Peninsula Economic Development Association Nonprofit Award to Northern Initiatives’s President Dennis West at the Operation Action U.P. annual meeting on Thursday. West was also the keynote speaker at the event, sharing his experiences in economic development while at Northern Initiatives. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

By CECILIA BROWN

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Operation Action U.P. held its 54th annual meeting Thursday in the Great Lakes Rooms on Northern Michigan University’s campus. The theme of the meeting was “Celebrating ‘906’ — More Than Just an Area Code.”

OAUP, which has served the area as a privately funded economic development organization since 1963, is the only organization of that type in Michigan.

“For more than 50 years since Operation Action U.P. was formed, it continues to amaze me how many people turned out and continue to celebrate the achievements, the accomplishments, the excellence, the business community that we have right here in area code 906,” Brett French, co-chair of OAUP’s Board of Directors, said in introductory remarks.

French and Tawni Ferrarini, OUAP board co-chair, announced the event’s keynote speaker, Dennis West, president of Northern Initiatives.

“He’s spent over 33 years in community economic development and he’s worked in a broad range of community-based civic and professional activities,” Ferrarini said. “Since 1997, Dennis has served as the president of Northern Initiatives, a private, not-for-profit community-development financial institution, based here in Marquette Michigan.”

During his speech, West explained Northern Initiatives can offer loans to small business owners, community organizations and entrepreneurs who may not qualify for a loan from a bank.

He said Northern Initiatives assesses the character of the individual requesting a loan and hears the “story behind the story” to assess if a loan should be provided, rather than relying solely upon credit, collateral and other financial metrics.

“Always bet on character,” West said. “Our focus has always (been) … to incorporate someone’s character into how we think about an approach. Our philosophy is not to focus on the idea, it’s to focus on the entrepreneur and to always make sure that in thinking about the entrepreneur, that really what we’re assessing is character and a belief that they’re going to push forward and pull something off, regardless of what it looks like. So if we can believe in them, we can believe in the possibility of what they’re trying to do in the marketplace.”

Northern Initiatives has now provided over 1,000 loans for a total amount of around $60 million, West said. The loans, which have helped to create an estimated 4,700 jobs, ranged in size from $1,000 to $1.8 million, with the average loan amount being around $55,000.

West explained the ability to support the growth and development of businesses is a major benefit to the community, as these businesses can help to differentiate this community from others and attract talent, tourism and jobs to the area.

“I think what is really important in today’s world, (is) that those businesses now are starting to become the differentiators in our communities, so … it’s a world that’s shifted,” he said. “Now, what’s valued — to greater and greater degree — are things that are local, fresh, natural and authentic, and those are also the things that differentiate your community from other communities … People would come here and want to know what’s unique, what’s different, what’s illustrative of Marquette.”

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.