More than the last dollar - leveraging blue assets in outdoor recreation.

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This month's newsletter features on of the topics from the inaugural Northern Lakes Economic Symposium. You can learn more about the event and see the agenda on our ticket page. Tickets are on sale now.
The Outdoor Recreation Industry: More Than the Last Dollar
MI Outdoors collage
A driving force in the Northern Lower Michigan economy is our status as a recreation destination; people are drawn here by the natural environment to use bikes, ATVs, skis, boats, kayaks, snowmobiles, fishing rods, and other outdoor toys. However, being a recreation destination means that we, as a state and a region, are generally only capturing the “final dollar” of the outdoor recreation industry, the dollars spent to purchase or use outdoor equipment. What if there was a way to capture earlier dollars from the industry, not just rent the equipment to tourists but to be involved in the research, design, and production of the products that drive our local economy?
What if there was a way to capture earlier dollars from the industry - not just rent the equipment to tourists - but to be involved in the research, design, and production of the products that drive our local economy?
The Place for Producers
Evolving the regional outdoor industry requires changing the perception of outdoor assets and infrastructure; the same things that make the area attractive to end-users—cyclists, hunters, anglers, skiers, boaters, and more—also make the area attractive to producers. The region’s growing network of mountain bike trails—Boyne Highlands, Boyne School Forest, Tanton Family Working Forest Reserve, and Glacial Hills—offer innovators and entrepreneurs in that industry an enticing area to locate. Producers are important because businesses involved in the research, design, and manufacturing of outdoor products typically provide higher wages, better benefits, and more reliable employment than businesses that rely on seasonal tourism. For example, the lakes and rivers the pull many boaters and paddlers to the area make the region a prime location for businesses like Van Dam Boats and Little Bay Boards to design and manufacture products for outdoor enthusiasts an enticing place to live and play.
Success Story: Little Bay Boards
Jason Thelen, founder of Little Bay Boards, can’t imagine making his eco-friendly,
hollow-wood standup paddle boards anywhere else. The region offers resources and a support network that has helped his company succeed. Our region’s unparalleled rivers, inland lakes, and Great Lakes offer the Thelen the chance to test his prototypes in a variety of conditions. Where many people see a paddling destination, he saw a testing ground for an innovative product. Access to lumber is essential to Little Bay Boards and “…being able to drive down to Matelski Lumber when I was first starting out and not going through a middleman was huge in protecting my bottom line.”

Even better than the natural resources, Thelen says, “Anything an industry needs is here… our community here is great.” Little Bay Boards utilizes local individuals and businesses for merchandising, printing, business cards, photography, website development, advertising, and more. Thelen even leaned on and collaborated with other artists and craftsmen like Mary Bea, Van Dam Boats, and Stillwater Custom Cabinetry as he developed and refined his product. Little Bay Boards captures earlier dollars in the paddleboard industry, rather than the “final dollar”
spent by tourists coming to the Chain of Lakes Water Trail for example. As Little Bay Boards continues to grow, Thelen has added to his staff and moved into a larger space, proving the potential of outdoor recreation equipment producers in our area.
Downhill from Here
shaggy skier
Local ski areas draw countless visitors from around the Midwest who purchase more than just tickets while they are here: winter apparel, alpine skis, snowshoes, cross-country skis, and more. The same trails that attract tourists offer testing grounds to producers of the gear they use, like Shaggy’s Copper County Skis in Boyne City. With their factory situated less than five miles
from Boyne Mountain Resort, the company can easily design, test, and refine prototype skis; “we can really take a product from an idea one morning, and the next morning be skiing on that product.” Shaggy’s touts its access to “world-class” ash lumber used in the manufacturing process through a local lumber yard. Shaggy’s is leveraging our regional strengths in ski areas and natural resources to capture earlier dollars in the local and national ski industry, selling skis from their factory and shipping them around the US.
Leveraging Natural Assets
Brad Garmon DNR
Leveraging our natural assets and outdoor recreation infrastructure to support economic development will be the focus of the second keynote speaker at the NLEA’s Economic Symposium, Brad Garmon. Garmon serves as the director of the Michigan’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry and he “has spent the last 20 years focused on improving Michigan public policy to better protect the Great Lakes and natural areas, while also forging stronger connections between resource conservation, job growth, talent attraction and economic development.” His knowledge and experience will connect to the event’s theme of the region’s blue water economy.
Economic Symposium Speaker Preview
Get a taste for the Northern Lakes Economic Symposium speakers. There will be keynotes to address all participants as well as breakout rooms to drill down into specific topics. More presenters on the list to be revealed soon!
Featured Keynote Speakers:

John Austin - "Blue Economy"

Brad Garmon - "Outdoor Recreation - Leveraging Natural Assets"

Quentin Messer Jr. "State of the Post-Pandemic Economy"
Craft Beverage Breakout:
Energy Future Breakout:
Business/Talent Attraction Breakout: Justin Horvath
You can Join the Discussion !
Tickets are on sale now for the NLEA Economic Symposium.

The Economic Symposium will be held at Boyne Mountain Resort, Boyne Falls on Friday, May 13.

The inaugural Northern Lakes Economic Symposium & Annual Showcase is a forum for local and state government officials, community and business leaders, area entrepreneurs, chamber members, educational leaders and everyone involved in the economic vitality of our region for sharing of knowledge of the economic drivers of the region, networking, and celebration.

You won't want to miss this.
Chance to Win a 3D Printer!
Attention manufacturers: MEDC’s Pure Michigan Business Connect has partnered with Automation Alley to host a pitch competition during Integr8 2022 for Michigan manufacturers interested in competing for a 3D printer. Interested manufacturers should submit an application as to how the industrial 3D printer would solve a labor, capacity or process challenge and support their business overall. Selected applicants will be invited to an in-person pitch competition on May 10 during the conference. Businesses interested in participating must complete an application by April 7.
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