Northern Michigan Groups to Lobby Governor to Create Rural Affairs Cabinet

Hundreds of communities across the state are joining forces to ask Governor Whitmer to dedicate more state support for rural Michigan.

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance is going to Lansing next week to ask the governor’s office to create a cabinet position for rural development.

They want a department dedicated to rural affairs and development. More than 100 groups across Michigan, from Marquette to Saginaw, endorsed the initiative.

TraverseCONNECT CEO Warren Call will be speaking to legislators and the governor’s staff on behalf of the chamber alliance in the next few days.

“We would like to see the state government take rural Michigan and Northern Michigan as seriously as they take other parts of the state,” said Call.  “It’s important for the voice of rural Michigan to permeate all departments and all aspects of state government.”

He says small, rural towns face different challenges than suburban and urban centers like Grand Rapids or Metro Detroit.

Talent attraction and retention, child care and housing are all issues many rural places struggle with.

The housing shortage is crippling for Charlevoix.

Julie Mann owns Smoke on the Water restaurant downtown and says it indirectly hurts her business.

“There is very little affordable housing in the area,” said Mann. “It affects everybody’s staffing. Because if people can’t live in this town, then you can’t find workers year round.”

Mann also added that the fluctuating business between seasons is also difficult.

The Charlevoix Chamber has been trying to work on housing issues, but there are several issues in their way. Chamber president Sarah Hagen says many affordable housing tax incentives are written in a way that makes it hard for rural places to qualify.

“All of our areas really do have the barriers at the state level,” said Hagen. “Those programs, they really benefit urban and suburban areas but in rural areas, those qualifications don’t really match what’s available in a rural area.”

She hopes the governor will consider having a rural advocate in her cabinet who can look out for areas like Charlevoix.

“Up here, we have a big population rural areas but we can’t meet those criteria sometimes,” said Hagen. “How do we make that match up with what we actually can do? And what the state could help us with?”

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance has meetings with legislators and the governor’s staff next week.