By ILSA MATTHES
For The Daily News
ESCANABA - Democratic congressional hopeful Jerry Cannon, of Fife Lake in the northern Lower Peninsula, was in Escanaba as he began his winter tour of the Upper Peninsula. Cannon hopes to win the U.S House of Representatives seat currently occupied by Republican Congressman Dan Benishek.
"One of the things I'm trying to do is just listen to people's cares, and concerns, and views, and just talk to civic leaders, and government leaders, and business leaders, and community leaders," said Cannon of the tour.
For Cannon, the economy of the district is a major issue. According to statistics from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget, in November 2012 the unemployment rate in the Upper Peninsula was 7.8 percent; however that rate rose to 9 percent during the November-December reporting period last year.
The U.P. joined the Northeast and Northwest Lower Peninsula reporting districts to form the only three of Michigan reporting districts where unemployment rose consistently in that period. The three regions include the geographic area of Michigan's 1st Congressional District, and all 17 of the additional reporting districts in the state had some level of recovery.
"We're never going to have a big Air Force base come back and create thousands of jobs for us. I think it's more about small business, small- and medium-sized businesses, are the economic engine of northern Michigan - not just the U.P. but the whole district," said Cannon.
While traveling the district, Cannon hopes to gather enough information to help the district's economy.
"It all depends on what I hear and what we learn and from there we'll kind of do an assessment, and it will not be a decision that Jerry Cannon (will make)," said Cannon, adding he intends to take that information to groups like chambers of commerce and economic developers to develop a plan of action.
Overall, however, Cannon believes the majority of economic recovery will not be the result of federal government action.
"I'm not suggesting that the federal government has the answer - as a matter of fact I'm pretty sure that they probably don't ... I'm a big subscriber that the best answer, especially when it comes to government, are at the local level. That's where things get done."
When asked about the economic impacts of the Affordable Care Act on small businesses, Cannon claimed that he was unaware of any difficulties small businesses may have understanding their requirements for being compliant with the law.
"I'm sure there are experts out there in the field, Navigators or whatever you want to call them, (they can ask) 'how does the company deal with this?'" he said.
Cannon noted he believed the adjustment period would be turbulent for small hospitals, which play major roles in local economies.
"We need to stop the attack on small rural hospitals and critical access hospitals. Those are - I'm not sure about here, but in many of the counties in this district - are a major employer," said Cannon.
Cannon views the transition as leading to "a new way of doing business" with greater emphasis on technology and collaboration.
"You've got to take advantage of technology. You've got to modernize the billing system. You've got to standardize all these things. That's why all these hospitals are networking and merging, because when you're bigger you can make more of those things more affordable and able to happen," he said.
While Cannon recognizes that there is a push to have the Affordable Care Act repealed, he believes that working together to fix and implement the law despite political differences is the only solution to any issues that may have arisen following the law's passage.
"We've been working on this for 100 years and a lot of these ideas started with the Republican Party and there's been fits and starts and stops about how to get this done and it's finally put into place, and the worst thing that could be done is say 'let's throw it all out,'" he said.