[Blog post by Kari Marciniak, Coordinator of the Michigan Rural Network (MRN). Take a look at the MRN blog on the front page of the MRN website for more posts.]
Last week I had the privilege of traveling to Marquette to attend the U.P. Nonprofit Conference, put on by the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development. Some might not consider the 7-hour trip from “downstate” to be a privilege, but the color explosion in Munising on a sunny fall day is reward enough for me in making the drive. (I was, unfortunately, about two weeks late to view the fall colors this year but I still pictured it in my head).
MRN had an Exhibitor table at the conference for two reasons: to let folks in the U.P. know about us, and to reach out to those same folks to find out what is most important to their rural communities. (We also had some pretty cool stuff to give away but that was just a side bonus.) So what is going on in rural communities in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? Well, I heard many sentiments that I’ve heard in other areas of the state – “there aren’t any jobs”, “the factory/mine closed”, “poverty is just so high”, “I’m not sure what we’re going to do for that community”, etc. Unfortunately, this isn’t just anecdotal. Research conducted by Northern Initiatives on unemployment in Northern Michigan shows that Northern Michigan had nine of the 50 highest counties with high unemployment rates, including Baraga County and Oscoda County which were one and two in July 2010.
So do we all throw our hands up in despair? Actually, no. The paradox of the U.P. is that right along with the negative comments, I also detected a thread of hope. A thread of pride in being a Yooper. A strength in both individuals and community groups. I didn’t have the answers when I arrived at the conference, and I still don’t have all the answers today. But I do know that the Upper Peninsula will grow and change along with the rest of Michigan. We are surrounded by too many beautiful places, too many natural resources, too many great people to not succeed.
What do you see as the future to the U.P.?