What does make the Great Lakes Bay Region great?
According to Matthew Felan, president and CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, there are many reasons why people visit, do business and consider Bay, Saginaw, Midland and Isabella counties their home.
The GLBR Alliance’s goal, according to its website, is to attract investors, business and industry, and skilled workers and visitors to the region. One way to do that is to forget physical boundaries, he told an audience of business leaders and professionals during a Midland Area Chamber of Commerce event on Friday.
“The first thing I want you to do is get rid of the dotted lines on the map,” Felan said.
One attribute of the region is a strong ability for creating products and services.
“We build and make things here. Ask our friends at Dow Chemical and Dow Corning,” Felan said. “If you want something built, you come to the Great Lakes Bay Region, we will build it and we will make things.”
Production isn’t just being done in a chemistry lab or a skilled trades shop, however; it is in the farmlands dotted through multiple counties and the farmers who help feed the surrounding communities. Sugar beets, corn, soy beans and potatoes are just some of the crops Felan mentioned.
“Did you know Michigan Sugar provides 1.3 billion dollars to our region’s economy, and it is only growing,” Felan said.
Another thing to boast about is hospital services, Felan said, provided by systems like MidMichigan Health, McLaren Bay Region, Covenant HealthCare and St. Mary’s of Michigan Medical Center.
“We are surrounded by world-class, top-notch health care systems that are right here in our backyards,” Felan said.
Those health care systems provide affiliations and education for the next generations of health care providers, Felan added. Speaking of education, he listed off numerous colleges and universities that educate the 55,000 to 60,000 students throughout the region.
But it isn’t just college students, or businesses that create greatness.
“You want to know what makes the Great Lakes Bay Region great?” Felan asked. “It is our people, it is us. It is our strength in families.”
When companies send their representatives to the area, who ask Felan why they should move here, those are just some of the benefits he lists for them.
“I always end with family, and our people. That is the fabric of who we are, that’s what makes us great and that is why we will continue to be great and grow as the years go on,” Felan said.
Asked the question of what job he has enjoyed the most in the Great Lakes Bay, Felan said the answer has varied with age but his favorite is his current role.
“We are not limited to one thing,” Felan said. “We can talk about economic development, we can talk about bringing jobs here, we can talk about STEM education. There are so many different things you get to touch with this job.”
Comparing the Great Lakes Bay Region to other locations he has lived in, Felan commented on how some people forget the convenience of living in communities within an easy commute of each other.
“I think sometimes we really take for granted it is, on any night, to go to Saginaw for dinner, to go to Midland to the Midland Center for the Arts,” Felan said.
Some of what Felan considers hidden gems of the region include the Saginaw Zoo, Ziibiwing Center in Mount Pleasant, the State and Temple theaters and the Japanese Cultural Center in Saginaw.
“Downtown Saginaw is in the midst of a renaissance and a rebirth,” Felan said, encouraging people to go to the coffee shops and try the new restaurants that have recently opened. “It’s had tough times, it’s had challenges. But guess what — you would not recognize downtown Saginaw in 20 years.”
Another one many people do not know about, Felan said, is the Central Michigan University Research Corporation, a business incubator that helps entrepreneurs and start-ups with business space and skills training. He described it as an organization with the “ability to really create new high tech incredible investments.”
Felan encouraged those who think they are a leader to hone those skills and go through the GLBR Alliance’s Institute for Leaders and learn about issues facing the entire region, from attracting new businesses to combating a growing epidemic of heroin use.
“You get to see it through the eyes of different communities,” Felan said.
What’s next for the Great Lakes Bay Region? He has a few ideas, including the development of beachfront areas along the Saginaw Bay, the growth of downtown districts and the expansion of a Big 10 presence in the area.
“We’re on our way in these towns,” Felan said. “We’re on the right road.”
For more information about the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, visit http://bit.ly/20gUo0v.