Growing Business. Building Community.

Resolved for More Civility in 2017

A presenter at a recent Young Professionals gathering at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce offered some words of wisdom when making New Years’ resolutions: keep the list short, and it will be more realistic to accomplish.

That’s solid advice and a good way to start the New Year. Let’s try it by suggesting a short list of items I would like our community to work on in 2017:

Let’s resolve to work together to move the community forward…

The past year has been divisive, to say the least, on the national level, and some of that tone has crept into our local discussions. While prospering from unprecedented economic growth in our region, recovering property values, falling unemployment rates and other positive economic indicators, the business sector in general seems to be under a growing amount of what we believe to be unfair and unfounded criticism. The script at public meetings increasingly reads that “business interests” run the town and residents are at risk. In reality, when you look at the make-up of many of our decision-making bodies, the business sector is under-represented. The community is actually missing out on an extraordinary level of experience and knowledge by keeping business people on the sidelines and discouraging them from getting involved. And, with no hyperbole, the things we love about our community can be attributed as much or more to its visionary and bold business leaders spanning the decades as it can to any other factors. That is no less true today.

Business leaders and owners want our community to prosper as much as anyone. It was “business” that led the efforts to move industry off the bay, build industrial parks on the outskirts of town, redevelop blighted neighborhoods, revitalize our downtown and preserve farmland and greenfields. While no one is entitled to seize the moral high ground on what’s best for the region, people will have differing views on how to get there. It’s time to bring more voices, viewpoints and experience into our community discussions and stop the convenient (and lazy) rhetoric that casts business as the villain.

And to appreciate and build on our success…

It wasn’t that long ago that the Grand Traverse region – and the rest of Michigan, the Midwest and much of the country – was mired in a deep recession. Plunging residential and commercial property values, double digit unemployment rates, scant new construction and development, stagnant population growth and other economic challenges generated legitimate concern for the immediate and long-range future. It wasn’t pretty.

Fast forward five years or so, and the region finds itself in a much better place. Property sales have turned and land values have surged past pre-recession levels. Unemployment has fallen by more than half, the construction industry is building again and more young families are finding their way to – or back to – Northern Michigan.

But we’ve also experienced a growing number of voices who seem afraid of the lengthening shadow. Resort regions elsewhere in the country have created significant economic pitfalls for themselves by turning to strategies designed to stop things from happening versus encouraging good things. Can we learn from the missteps of others? Or are we destined to follow the same path?

…And embrace our next generation…

It’s not hard to find communities that want to welcome young people – or at least say they do. But too often there’s an old school approach to the younger generation – that it should be seen, but not necessarily heard.

The Chamber takes that challenge very seriously. Its Young Professionals group has brought in hundreds of established as well as up-and-coming professionals into new leadership roles, volunteer opportunities and growing social networks. Our YPs, and participants in other Chamber programs like Leadership Grand Traverse, continue to spawn a new generation of community leaders and knowledgeable voices. Those engaged participants are passing on their interests and skills to even younger minds through an exciting new mentoring program launched in 2016 in partnership with Junior Achievement and TCAPS. We’re proud of the work of our Chamber YPs and bullish on their future.

We are a community of doers. The Chamber has prided itself for decades on being an “impact player.” We refuse to sit back and, as has been recently suggested relative to downtown development, “take a couple years off and see what happens.” The community must continue to expand its economy – constantly – to create job and career opportunities for every generation, to maintain world-class public and private schools to educate our children, to build transportation, broadband, and other infrastructure to bring them closer together, and to diversify our housing stock to help more people of all incomes to call this home.

So, come on friends; let’s get moving again and stop being afraid of our own success.   We can accomplish the things on this list, and we can respect and love one another in the process.