L’Anse Industrial Park is key to Go! Baraga

L’ANSE – The L’Anse Village Council heard a report on the new Go! Baraga County strategic plan at their regular meeting Monday.

According to Jerald Wuorenmaa, a planner with the Western U.P. Planning and Development Region Commission, a year’s worth of research, surveys and discussions came up with three main strategies for promoting the county’s economic development: infrastructure development at the village-owned U.S. 41 Lambert Road industrial park, development of a locally-grown food exchange, and increased promotion of Baraga County Memorial Hospital.

The village controls the destiny of the industrial park, and could also be the driving force behind a future food distribution center. But making these ventures successful will require both local and grant-funded investment, according to Wuorenmaa.

“This might be a time we can get other money, if we put some skin in the game,” Wuorenmaa said.

According to the Go! Baraga plan, there is currently a shortage of industrial space in the county. L’Anse Village Manager Robert LaFave said there has been plenty of interest from companies interested in building facilities at the 30-acre industrial park, but the current lack of infrastructure has kept deals from closing.

“Industrial space is at a premium,” he said. “Certainly we’ve had interest, but when they find we don’t have a class A road, they back off.”

LaFave said if the village can find grant money and come up with matching funds to build that road, as well as underground water and sewer infrastructure, the plan is to lease lots at inexpensive rates, rather than trying to make a profit directly from the park.

“The goal is to create jobs and drive investment,” he said. “Through creation of jobs, we hope to grow the tax base.”

Wuorenmaa said the goal of a food distribution center is based on survey findings that “people really value locally grown food here, but it can be really hard to get it.”

Originally, he said, WUPPDR looked into aquaponics – the creation of farms that mixed hydroponic farming with fish farming – but found there weren’t enough people in the area with expertise in these operations.

More viable agricultural alternatives developed with help from the Marquette Food Co-op include indoor-grown tomatoes, as well as asparagus and herbs, which have a high retail value in relation to the space needed for farming.

Wuorenmaa said local retailers have expressed interest in marketing the locally-grown produce, and that Baraga County was well located to be a distribution center.

LaFave said he was encouraged with the prospects for L’Anse becoming a U.P. local food hub.

“Now we’re trying to find folks who are interested in moving it forward in our community,” he said.

The third plan priority, growing BCMH, will largely have to be driven by the hospital itself, Wuorenmaa and LaFave agreed. Wuorenmaa said the hospital has scored well on customer satisfaction surveys, and should work to publicize the services they offer.

“There’s the opportunity here for people to use the only independent hospital left in the area,” he said.

Wuorenmaa also pointed to two supporting strategies for economic development currently in progress.

The first is the hiring of a full-time county economic developer, a process the chamber of commerce has been working on for several months. The second is the creation of an entrepreneurial center at the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, where renovations are already underway.

According to LaFave, the Go! Baraga County plan has become a valuable tool for the village and the county.

“If you don’t have a map to your goals, it might be harder to find your way to achieving those goals,” he said.

In other business, the council learned from Treasurer Janet Supanich that the village is estimating it will lose about 18 million gallons of water this winter and spring due to customers running water to prevent frozen pipes.

According to LaFave, that’s better than the alternative. He warned residents to wait until the village gives the OK, rather than turning faucets back off at the first signs of warm weather.

“When the weather gets warmer it’s probably actually going to drive the frost further into the ground, where it can break more pipes,” he said.