L'ANSE - Baraga County now has a vision for the future to address its high unemployment rate.
The Western Upper Peninsula Planning & Development Region, in collaboration with the Upper Peninsula Marketing Department Inc., has released the research findings from its "Go! Baraga County" strategic plan, which served as the basis for job creation suggestions.
According to the January Bureau of Labor Statistics report, Baraga County's unemployment rate stands at 18.2 percent (19 percent January 2012, 22.1 percent January 2011, 26.7 percent January 2010), but WUPPDR, based on a countywide survey and feedback from focus groups, has honed in on three possible strategies to create jobs. They are, as described in a WUPPDR press release:
"development of a Green and Technology Industrial Park focused on production of green energy products and services such as wood pellets and pellet stoves, windmills, and solar panels. A venue could be provided by an industrial park in L'Anse that is ripe for further development."
"Indoor Agriculture. This is a method of farming to raise produce and crops in a controlled indoor environment year-round. Benefits would include increased availability of local and potentially lower-cost food to retailers, restaurants, and consumers."
"Aquaculture. Through this industry, fish are raised in confined environments within or directly attached to existing water bodies in this case primarily Lake Superior's Keweenaw Bay. Under the right circumstances, indoor agriculture and aquaculture can be combined in a mutually beneficial way through a new industry called 'aquaponics.'"
While the strategies are backed by the findings of the 56-page research findings document, they are still tentative, and feasibility within the local business and natural environment is yet to be determined. WUPPDR is still seeking feedback to help refine the suggestions.
"The strategies are at a very early stage of development," WUPPDR Planner Jerald Wuorenmaa said in a Daily Mining Gazette interview. "Implementation will not begin until late this year, so basically what we have done so far is gained consensus on what we should put some time into researching. ... Anyone can let us know what they think of the strategies selected at this point, and this could affect what is put into the final plan."
To provide feedback, contact Wuorenmaa at email@example.com or 482-7205, extension 319. The full research summary can be found at gobaragacounty.com, but below is a brief glance at some highlights.
A total of 836 people responded to the survey, which represents 7.8 percent of the Baraga County population. All villages and townships were represented, and exactly 100 Keweenaw Bay Indian Community tribal members responded. About 60 percent of respondents were female, and about 60 percent were between 40 and 64 years old. Over 80 percent of survey takers have lived in Baraga County for more than 10 years.
One major finding was that business start-up resources and entrepreneurial spirit is low in the county, but that natural resources provide a key opportunity for growth.
While most survey responses were similar between tribal and non-tribal members, opinions on mining sharply contrasted. Of the 91 tribal members responding the particular question about growth opportunities, only 3 percent selected mining as one of the top six industries with growth potential - as opposed to 24 percent of non-tribal members.
The survey asked people their perception of Baraga County's economic state, and 75.81 percent categorized it as "desperate."
Other findings, supported by detailed research and statistics, include the following:
Residents purchase everyday items in Baraga County, but make larger purchases and seek entertainment outside the county.
Specialized health care services are available, yet many residents seek health care outside the county.
Residents love recreating in their own backyard, including 65 percent who indicate Baraga County is their favorite place for running/jogging/walking, 63 percent for boating/canoeing/kayaking and 62 percent for fishing.
There are neutral-to-positive feelings about local county government.
Roads, accountability and education are areas of public service that residents feel need the most improvement.
Baraga County is an attractive place to live and better zoning enforcement will improve the county.
Addiction, abuse and teen pregnancy are alarming concerns in the county, including 98 percent of respondents who feel drug use needs much or some attention.
Shared public services and co-sponsored events are a great opportunity for better collaboration between tribal and non-tribal communities.
The research findings also include respondent comments; detailed results of focus groups, which were divided across eight business or community sectors; and a list of all county assets to use as the basis for job creation opportunities.
For more information, including a PDF of the research findings, visit gobaragacounty.com.