2018-02-08 / Front Page

STC reviews first year, looks ahead

Tourism and commerce organization focuses on community, economics

Schoolcraft Tourism and Commerce volunteer Alison Edwards organizes brochures at the Welcome Center Wednesday afternoon. The Welcome Center serves as the hub for the barely year-old organization. 
Pioneer Tribune photo Schoolcraft Tourism and Commerce volunteer Alison Edwards organizes brochures at the Welcome Center Wednesday afternoon. The Welcome Center serves as the hub for the barely year-old organization. Pioneer Tribune photo MANISTIQUE – Nearly one year into its establishment, the Schoolcraft Tourism and Commerce group is making strides within the community. The organization, a blend of existing local groups and new volunteers, focuses primarily on area economic development and growth.

According to Alan Barr, CEO and executive director of the STC, the organization has been busy since gaining a permanent home early last year. The former Schoolcraft County Chamber of Commerce building now serves as both an area Welcome Center and base of operations for the STC.

Currently, the Welcome Center boasts more than 50 volunteers who handle drop-in visitors, information requests, and any other business involved with the building’s day-to-day operations.

“We’ve had over 6,200 people walk through the door since the first Saturday in May,” Barr said. “We get phone calls every day … it’s pretty neat that you can kind of be a clearing house for information.

The volunteers have been nothing short of amazing,” he continued. “There’s been something close to 3,500 volunteer hours – essentially gifted to us by these folks already.”

The STC consists of individual volunteers, as well as a merged group of volunteers from the Schoolcraft County Economic Development Corporation, the former SCCC, and the Manistique Merchants Association. Its 16-member board includes Chairperson Jennifer Watson and Vice Chairperson Robert Crumb.

According to Barr, the group’s mission is to “sustain and enhance the quality of life for every resident of Schoolcraft County.”

“We do that through economic development, through community development, and through workforce development,” he explained. “Helping businesses expand, helping businesses move here, helping businesses market what they already do, helping the other agencies in the area with grant writing or the support we can offer.”

The group has also obtained a 501(c)3 non-profit status – needed for any organization looking to fundraise or acquire grant funding.

“The reason for the 501(c)3 was really to help with our fundraising,” Barr explained. “It allows us to go to bigger foundations and donors and they get the tax benefit of making a donation to us or helping us in some way. That has been remarkably helpful.”

The group obtained the status as the Upper Peninsula Workforce and Rural Development, Inc.

“We’ve got an official DBA (doing business as) Schoolcraft Tourism and Commerce,” Barr added.

As far as grants are concerned, he noted that those can’t typically be used for any operational expenses, but they can be applied to a program or project. Barr said the STC worked with CUPPAD (Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission) to host a grant writing workshop.

“We had around 22 people come and take the workshop and so, coming out of that, more of the other nonprofits had some grant-writing skills and they’ve been going after grants and getting them,” he explained. “So there’s some actual money coming into those groups and the community.”

One of the STC’s more substantial projects has been accommodating the development of more reliable wireless internet.

“If you put a pin in the center of Manistique and drew a five-mile circle, inside the circle you’ve had access to cable, high-speed internet. Outside that circle, it’s pretty iffy,” Barr explained. “Most the people in the county don’t have really good access.”

With the help of Northern Michigan University, the STC was connected with an Oregonbased company looking to test new broadband technology.

“For the past four or five months, they’ve been working with us to identify towers that already exist that they can put equipment on so they’re not building new towers or running new cable,” Barr said. “It’s fifth generation wireless. The Cooks fire tower, right of U.S. Highway 2, was the first tower that they had permission to install on. Between us and Delta County, there are about 50 homes that have new wireless internet and it’s working exceptionally well.”

He added that though winter has slowed the project down, the hope is to have new internet service offered to all residents of the county at some point this year.

STC Board Vice Chairperson Robert Crumb noted that the expansion of reliable internet service will help both those looking to relocate and currently living in the area.

“It helps the businesses that are in the area have strong internet, be able to have a website that’s good,” he said.

The project is being funded by the company, which has hired one local employee and has plans to hire another full-time person and establish a headquarters downtown, Barr said.

Marketing the area is high on the priority list of the STC. The group’s members are also behind the creation of the Discover Manistique website and app, which currently has more than 1,100 downloads.

“The app is very unique for … a community our size, for sure,” Crumb said. “To be able to have an interactive app that people can go to and see what’s going on and where to stay and where to eat, and what’s available.”

The Discover Manistique website has undergone recent updates and aesthetic improvements, Barr added.

The STC group received two donations to help get the area featured in Delta Airline’s Sky Magazine.

“Somewhere between six and 12 million people got a chance to look at that, and we’ve had some calls and emails as a result of that,” Barr said. “We’re finding more ways to get the word out.”

As far as the existing events of the merged organizations – such as the Manistique Merchant’s Associations annual Easter Egg Hunt and annual Car Show – the STC has been working to maintain and improve the offerings.

“The goal is to make sure nothing is left behind or not done and asking how do we do even more?” Barr said. “We try to partner with anybody we can.”

Focusing on creating more events to bring the community together and promote the area will also be a priority for the STC.

“There’s a lot to offer here,” said Barr. “You’ve got 47 miles of gorgeous lakefront, 202 inland lakes. If you don’t want to see another person – you can do that. If you want to be around a lot of people – you can do that.”

Crumb pointed out that Manistique is a “great central location”.

“I can be to Tahquamenon, I can be to Marquette, I can go to Fayette, I can go to Big Springs,” he said. “It’s just the perfect spot, without all the hubbub, to use as a base camp.”

For more information on the STC group, search Schoolcraft Tourism and Commerce or Discover Manistique on Facebook, visit www.discovermanistique.com, or download the Discover Manistique app in an app store.

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