2017-07-27 / Front Page

Iseri Will Direct Economic Alliance

By Kevin R. Hess

Alex Iseri is the new director of the Mackinac Economic Alliance, taking over for Anne Ottaway, who stepped down as the director to take more of an executive role. Mr. Iseri says he is eager to help bring stability and growth to businesses and communities of Mackinac County. Alex Iseri is the new director of the Mackinac Economic Alliance, taking over for Anne Ottaway, who stepped down as the director to take more of an executive role. Mr. Iseri says he is eager to help bring stability and growth to businesses and communities of Mackinac County. Growing up as the son of international teachers, Traverse City born Alex Iseri is well traveled, having lived in India, Indonesia, Nicaragua, and several U.S. cities. Now, he has come to St. Ignace as the new director of the Mackinac Economic Alliance (MEA).

“Northern Michigan has some of the nicest people in the world,” he said.

Mr. Iseri has a degree in political science from Beloit College in Wisconsin and a master’s degree in international development administration from Western Michigan University. He served with AmeriCorps in Roscommon County, organizing a Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, focusing on small business development.

Half of his time in Nicaragua was spent with high school students with entrepreneurial interests and the other half with small business owners, helping them to develop short-term growth and long-term sustainability. His academic background and work experience make him uniquely qualified to fill the role of director and help to make connections with small business owners and entrepreneurs. He wants to help connect them with other business owners and mentors and to provide training and resources for owners and their staff.

Returning to northern Michigan is one opportunity the job with Mackinac Economic Alliance provided, and the organization’s mission to stimulate economic growth here is another.

“It’s an area that has great qualities, but with some economic challenges that I hope to be a part of improving,” he said.

Mackinac County’s poverty level is 16.7%, while the national average is 14.5% and the state average is 15.8%. The median income for the county is $38,434, which is $15,000 less than the national average and $11,000 less than the state average. Mr. Iseri noted three factors that have contributed to these numbers. The first is a lack of quality, affordable housing. This is an issue that the county has been working to address, trying to encourage developers to come to the area and build. The second is a lack of year-around jobs. Without such employment, Mr. Iseri said, it is hard to sell people on moving to the area and planting roots. In addition, the lack of year-around businesses puts strain on those businesses that do stay open all year. The third factor is an aging population. The median age in Mackinac County is 51 years old, and trending upwards. The median age was 42 in 2000 and 49 in 2010. The U.S. median age is 37.8, and Michigan’s is 39.3. The largest demographic in the county is people between the ages of 45 and 64, comprising 34% of the population. People age 65 and older comprise 27.5% of the population. The lowest percentage is those between the ages of 18 and 24, who comprise less than 5% of the population. A lack of jobs and of training in skilled trades are major factors that cause young people to leave after high school, said Mr. Iseri, and few return after college or trade school.

“People want to live here,” Mr. Iseri said, “but because of these issues, many feel they can’t.”

Despite the trends, Mr. Iseri believes Mackinac County is primed for growth.

“The local governments here seem to be on the same page,” he said. “Placemaking has been very strong and allows us to showcase the quality of life here in the county.”

Placemaking plays on a community’s assets to provide public spaces that promote happiness, pride, and health among residents.

Mr. Iseri’s first goal as director is outreach to the community. He says he is a big believer in servant leadership and is looking forward to connecting with local residents, business owners, and entrepreneurs.

“I can go online and find statistics that will tell me what is needed here, but it’s better to hear from those who live and work here,” he said. “I want to build a coalition.”

One of the ways Mr. Iseri believes businesses can grow and expand is through education. MEA has recently developed its own SCORE chapter, or Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE is an organization of experienced business people who offer their expertise as volunteer mentors to local business owners and entrepreneurs. They provide mentoring on a variety of business topics. Newer business owners can learn from the successes and the challenges that seasoned owners have experienced.

To access SCORE mentors, business owners and entrepreneurs must have a clear business plan in place.

“We need to see that people are invested and committed to a business plan,” said Mr. Iseri. “They don’t need to have all the answers, but they should have a good idea of where they want to go.”

Another partnership the MEA will have is with the administrators of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program with the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District. Voters approved a CTE millage this past spring that will raise an estimated $2.3 million for use with CTE programs for high school juniors and seniors. The MEA will work with the administrators to find ways to best use these funds, train students, and develop more skilled trades in the EUP. One of the hopes of the CTE millage is that it will keep more young people in the area after high school, providing them with the skills necessary to enter the workforce, as well as encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses to take advantage of the increase in skilled workers.

“We also want to be more active in providing training for the owners and for their staff,” said Mr. Iseri.

Mr. Iseri says agribusiness is primed for growth here, with several entrepreneurial farmers already in operation. One of his goals is to encourage hospitality businesses to carry local products.

“The local connection adds value to all involved,” said Mr. Iseri.

Another goal is to get high quality broadband service into every home, business, and nonprofit in the county. A broadband survey was recently completed, documenting the need for reliable Internet in Brevort, Clark, and Portage townships. These townships were chosen based on the number of residents lacking reliable internet service and their proximity to existing, in-ground fiber optic cables. All participant responses are mapped and will be used as the basis for engineering plans and feasibility studies in each township. The studies will help determine the communityspecific costs of internet service upgrades and network construction.

For small business owners and entrepreneurs looking for help, MEA has programs such as a revolving loan fund and can help with fundraising, grant writing, and help with developing a business or marketing plan.

Mr. Iseri is looking forward to connecting with the community and its business owners. He says the sense of civic pride is clear and he has been impressed with the professionalism and passion of the owners and people he has already met, noting their dedication to making their communities stronger. He’s also looking forward to his first winter in Mackinac County.

“It’s been a while since I’ve experienced a northern Michigan winter,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how it goes.”

Dean Reid, vice chairman of the MEA, said Mr. Iseri’s background and education were key factors in the board’s decision to hire him.

“Alex’s work in rural areas, with northern Michigan, and his diverse background internationally while traveling with his parents give him a unique perspective,” said Mr. Reid. “I think he can bring a lot of perspective that maybe we hadn’t thought about before.”

Mr. Reid says the board wants Mr. Iseri to get out and meet the chambers of commerce and other organizations to develop relationships, speak to what MEA is working on, and to let them know how MEA can be of help.

“I think he will do great,” Mr. Reid said. “Alex has some great ideas, as well as the continuation of what we’ve been doing, with the broadband survey and our work on housing.”

Mr. Iseri began work July 5.

“I’m ready to do whatever I can and whatever I have to in order to help bring growth and strength to the area,” he said. “If we’re all on the same page, together we can make it happen.”

Business owners and entrepreneurs interested in connecting with Mr. Iseri and MEA can contact him at (906) 430-4774, or email iserialex@mackinaceconomicalliance.org.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2017-07-27 digital edition