Michigan Office of Rural Development can make difference for U.P.

With much of the state’s population, resources and industry concentrated in the Lower Peninsula’s urban centers, the strengths and needs of rural communities — especially here in the Upper Peninsula — can sometimes seem to be overlooked by lawmakers in Lansing.

However, was some welcome news recently for rural communities: The creation of the Michigan Office of Rural Development was established by an executive director signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The office plans to focus on all rural matters, provide guidance on pressing issues in rural Michigan and offer insight on how the administration can invest in thriving rural communities, according to Whitmer’s office.

InvestUP, a private sector-led economic development organization focused on economic growth in the U.P., lauded the creation of the Michigan Office of Rural Development, which the organization said will “help strengthen and build prosperity among the state’s rural communities.”

The office comes as a result of combined efforts among many local, regional and state leaders, whom we commend for working together to address a set of critical issues facing the state’s rural communities.

“After starting the conversation here in the U.P. following years of strategizing and advocacy on the part of dozens of stakeholders across the state, it’s gratifying to see this new executive-level office come to fruition,” InvestUP CEO Marty Fittante said in a statement. “We’re grateful for Governor Whitmer’s leadership and the commitment of (State Agriculture) Director Gary McDowell, as well as for the hard work of (state) Sen. (Ed) McBroom and members of the U.P. legislative delegation who helped championed the creation of this new office.”

InvestUP had helped initiate this effort to align the state’s actions with several of InvestUP’s priorities, which include addressing population loss and related issues.

This is critical to address, as 14 of the U.P.’s 15 counties had population loss between 2010 and 2020, according to 2020 Census data.

The impacts of population decline are tremendous, as regional study led by InvestUP identified housing, rural health care delivery, education delivery, broadband and child care as issues directly related to decreasing populations in the Upper Peninsula.

However, the new office plans to address these challenges, including the difficulty businesses across the region have in attracting and retaining young workers.

“Obviously, work force development is driven by population growth,” Fittante said. “This is a win for small businesses that will benefit from investments in affordable housing, infrastructure, and other key elements that attract and keep workers.”

Anecdotally, it’s safe to say that most people in the U.P. know young locals and recent graduates who would love to stay in the region, but have moved away from the U.P. to find affordable housing or a well-paying job in their field. We believe addressing these issues is a key to attracting and retaining younger populations, as it’s clear that people want to live here — but are faced with a set of challenges that can make it unaffordable.

“Frankly, if the office focuses on actionable results, it will make Michigan a leader in the management of rural development issues,” Fittante said. “We look forward to working with the administration and the new deputy to support this effort and to ensure opportunities for the U.P. and rural Michigan to prosper.”

We agree with Fittante. The success of the office — and the region as a whole — will depend on it obtaining actionable results and implementing evidence-based strategies to address the challenges faced by rural communities.

We will watch closely the regional outcomes associated with this office and hope to see positive changes that allow our children and grandchildren to live, work and thrive in the beautiful U.P., just as previous generations have.


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