New Dickinson EDA establishes funding, sets up 17-member board of directors



Staff Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN — The new Dickinson Area Economic Development Authority appears to be hitting the ground running, ready to begin solving some of the obstacles to expanding and fostering businesses in the region.

After kicking off fundraising June 13 at Pine Grove Country Club in Iron Mountain, the group managed to draw $200,000 in pledges from community businesses, organizations, municipalities and even school districts, all interested in economic development.

The original $250,000 goal was reduced after some area businesses offered meeting and office space for the organization.

Most of the pledges were three-year commitments as well, enabling the DAEDA to focus on community needs rather than fundraising, said Russ Kassin, DAEDA board chairman.

The second significant milestone came when the DAEDA in July signed a collaboration agreement with Lake Superior Community Partnership that will allow it to work not just in the Dickinson area but throughout the region.

“Now we have LSCP providing economic development services and support to us. And that frees us up from having to develop a plan and structure. We are going with something that has worked for them and they have been doing this work for 20-plus years. We aren’t reinventing the wheel,” Kassin said.

The partnership also provides for a more regional — or “906” — effort toward economic development, he said.

In addition to LSCP, the local organization has used the economic model of The Right Place of Grand Rapids in setting up the new development group and dealing with the biggest problems facing the area.

They used a 80/20 percent private-to-public investment model to boost the local economy.

“The job of the DAEDA is to put forth 80 percent effort in retaining business and 20 percent into bringing in new development to the Dickinson area,” Kassin explained. “We want to help the businesses we have stay successful and to expand if needed. The EDA help businesses share information and they can help each other with this knowledge.”

No one denies vacant properties remain that need to be filled, he added.

“But we need to come up with a unique idea on how to do this. Buildings are sitting vacant and need to be revitalized,” Kassin said.

The DAEDA’s origins date back to 2016, when Bruce Orttenburger retired as director of the former EDA and Dickinson Area Chamber Alliance.

“The retirement forced the issue — do nothing or reorganize. Private industry was pushing us to move forward and reorganize,” Kassin said.

The most positive switch from the reorganization was to get large industries as well as other businesses involved in the EDA, said Tony Edlebeck, vice chairman of the DAEDA board.

The initial drive behind the DAEDA came from larger businesses such as Champion Inc., Systems Control, Boss Snowplow and CCI.

A lot of other businesses — of all sizes — now are interested in the newly reorganized organization as well, Edlebeck added.

“The biggest concern we have here is that some businesses need to grow and have had a problem with finding people to meet their staffing needs. There are about 500 jobs that we haven’t been able to fill,” Edlebeck said.

He attributes this to such factors as not enough students in technical training, plus a shortage of affordable houses and rentals.

Realtors can’t keep houses in the $150,000 to $190,000 range on the market, Edlebeck said. And many apartment buildings in the area are full.

For the past five to six years, the EDA and local education leaders have talked about what’s needed to locally fill skilled trade jobs. They identified a need at that time for more welders-fabricators, since many had left the area to work in Marinette, along with machinists and people trained in bricklaying, masonry, carpentry, plumbing and electrical work.

“And with Baby Boomers retiring in these jobs, we will need more people to fill the openings,” Edlebeck said.

So continuing partnerships with education will be crucial to DAEDA success in this area, Kassin said. “We need to continue to collaborate with local education and the private sector regarding development of these needed job skills.

“If we build up our tax base, we can do more things. And with a large population, we can support different businesses moving in. We live in an unique area where it’s not just one industry employing people living here. We have more than 50 businesses in the area that are doing well,” Edlebeck noted.

The reorganization also meant putting together a new 17-member board of directors, with five to six seats up for re-appointment each year. The members include:

— Five from larger businesses: Brad Lebouef of Systems Control, Evan Rice of CCI, Gary Benjamin of Champion Inc., John Coyne of BOSS Snowplow and Steve Feira of MJ Electric.

— Three from smaller businesses: Lee Lofstrom of IDC and Oasis Fuel, Nicole Lutz of CJ Graphics and Rich Mortl from Mortl’s Sports Center.

— Two from education: Craig Allen of Breitung Township Schools and Kevin Carlson of Bay College.

— Two from the financial industry: Russell Kassin of First National Bank & Trust and Benji Wood of Range Bank.

— One each from: for insurance, Chad Harrison of Danielson Insurance; for real estate, Linda Plumley of Leeds Real Estate; for municipal government, Tony Edlebeck from Kingsford; for county government, Joe Stevens of the Dickinson County Board; and for LSCP, Caralee Swanberg.

With the new board in place, the DAEDA will start developing task forces to become its experts in areas that need work, Kassin said.

Interviews have finished with candidates for a new director. When that position is filled, the organization is ready to figure out what businesses are looking for in Dickinson County.

The reorganization has given the EDA a fresh chance to develop a plan, meet a funding goal, set a new vision.

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of this — putting aside the old ways and bringing in the new future of economic development in the Dickinson County area,” Kassin said.