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By Carlin Smith, President
Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce
 
                As Paul Simon says, it’s time to hang another year on the line.  How did we do in 2014?  What can we expect in 2015?  Here’s a brief Petoskey perspective as we move into a new year.

                Every year brings changes; some expected and some not expected.  We started the year in 2014 with an unexpected jolt when our long-time county controller, Lyn Johnson, died suddenly.  Lyn had been our lead county administrator for 30-years and guided our county with a steady hand.  While Lyn is missed terribly, I’m happy to report the county hasn’t missed a beat in his absence.  Lyn’s longtime assistant, Mary Krupa was wisely promoted into his place and is keeping that steady hand on the helm.

                We’re also in a transition at the City of Petoskey.  Our City Manager Dan Ralley left Petoskey to take a new job in a community in Ohio.  The first attempt to replace Dan didn’t yield the results the city wanted, so a search is underway again.  The city council has narrowed down its list of the latest candidates and I expect we’ll see an offer made in early 2015.  In the meantime, the very capable staff at city hall and the various department heads have kept the city humming along without any glitches.

                In 2014, we saw the completion of a construction project that changed the look and improved the safety of our entrance into town.  While the construction period was costly to businesses, the end result is an improved corridor on US 31 as you approach Petoskey from the south.

                The city also completed a new walking/biking path that connects Downtown Petoskey to Bay View utilizing the former railroad corridor.  Did you know that the City of Petoskey scored a 100% walkability rating this year?  This project is another example of how this town is so pedestrian friendly.

                The economy?  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  With purely anecdotal information and personal observations, I would say the Little Traverse Bay region continued its trend of slow and steady growth, a trend that’s been steady since we started pulling out of the recession.  Tourism was solid in 2014 and the autumn travel season was one of the busiest we ever observed here at the chamber of commerce.  Manufacturing seems to be robust right now.  The biggest challenge facing most manufacturers is the ability to hire enough people to do the work.  The real estate market and the building and trades are finally out of their long-time doldrums and are busy on all fronts.  Property is moving again and we’re seeing new construction.

                Health care continues to be a challenge.  I wouldn’t want to be an administrator or a lead professional in the health care industry right now.  It’s an era of extreme change with the Affordable Care Act, retiring doctors, and electronic record-keeping, not to mention distractions like the Ebola crisis.  Locally, we have good leaders in place and our largest employer, McLaren Northern Michigan, seems to be moving through this transition period with confidence.

                A few short years ago, the local viticulture industry wouldn’t have been worth a mention in this type of column, but it is now a tremendous growth industry in the Little Traverse Bay region.  You see grape vines growing in more and more places, and in 2014 the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon on two more wineries, Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery and Crooked Vine Vineyard & Winery near Alanson.  This is an exciting industry as it supports local farmers while giving us yet another tourism amenity to promote.

                So what can we expect as we move into 2015?  More road construction.  The Michigan Department of Transportation started work this fall on US 31 from the City of Petoskey out to Camp Daggett Road.  This work will continue in the 2015 construction season.  Road construction is a necessary disruption, but a disruption nonetheless and we’ll need to do what we can at the chamber of commerce to support those businesses in the construction corridor.

                We’ll see transitions in the coming year in our governmental circles.  As I mentioned we’ll see a new City Manager in Petoskey.  We will also be working with new lawmakers at the state level.  Wayne Schmidt will be our new State Senator and Lee Chatfield will be our new Representative in the house.  Through our partnership with the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, we have enjoyed a great relationship with Senator Schmidt for several years.  That transition will be easy.  We also expect an easy transition with Representative Chatfield who has been approachable and visible prior to and after the November election.

                At that same election, voters in the Petoskey School District approved a $10-million bond issue to fund a new Community Athletic Complex that includes a new stadium, access roads, parking areas, and more.  While we won’t see all of the benefits of this work until 2016, we’ll certainly see some benefits in 2015 along with a significant amount of construction activity on our high school/middle school campus.

                Will we see something at “the Hole” in 2015?  Things are more encouraging on that front than they have been in years.  The newest owner, Elias Amash, and his wHOLE Team have introduced the preliminary design concepts of New Arlington Place, a multi-use development that would include a hotel, residential units, and street level businesses.  As exciting as this might be, we’re still in the very early stages at this point.  The difficult issues of parking, financing, and design approval still need to be addressed, but it is encouraging to hear some positive dialogue again around this vacant downtown block.

                The economy?  Barring any crazy occurrences in the world, I expect we’ll continue to see slow and steady growth across most sectors of the economy.  As we move into 2015 and on into future years, we’ll be hearing more concern about energy supplies in our state as nine coal-fired power plants begin to go offline.  We will also hear more and more discussion about an available workforce to fill jobs in our region.  I predict workforce shortages will be a growing concern across many economic sectors.  We’ll also watch closely what voters decide in May about increasing Michigan’s sales tax in order to support transportation funding in the state.  This looks to be a great opportunity to begin to address Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure. 

                The Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce is grateful to its many partners and supporters who have worked with us to address key issues in the area and we look forward to these continued collaborations in the New Year.  Here’s to a prosperous 2015.  Cheers.

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