ALPENA - Alpena County's economic development project with Explorer Solutions is moving forward and is still in the second phase of the three-part plan. The company was hired last year to explore what type of business Alpena could make unique to the area, and particularly the airport.
To this point the county has spent $70,600 and has another $47,400 committed for this year. The cost of the project has totaled $118,000 for the two phases.
Alpena County Commissioner Ken Hubbard, who was skeptical of the spending for the project, said Explorer Solutions has found a niche business for Alpena, and it would utilize many of the things Alpena has to offer.
"The first part of the project was to identify what might work here, and the second part is to find parties who might be interested in making it a reality," Hubbard said. "I can say we have some business advantages in the area for this particular project, which leaves me hopeful it will work. The idea is a good one and our community has some advantages over others, and even though I am the one who voted against it, I think it has some merit and am hopeful it will work out in the long run."
Hubbard said the county has been quiet about the specifics of the project because it doesn't want to have another entity take advantage of the opportunity and steal the idea. He said now finding investors in the idea and making development deals is the next step.
"The reason we have been quiet about what the project is is because we're paying a big chunk of change for the idea and we don't want to give it away free to other areas," Hubbard said. "If someone takes an interest we will encourage them to come to Alpena, but you never know what the process will lead to. It would be good for the community if they do, but there aren't any guarantees anyone will. Explorer Solutions is talking to executives of large corporations about this endeavor hoping that someone will take an interest in it and develop it here."
With the ongoing challenge to find a replacement for Delta Airlines at the Alpena County Regional Airport, Hubbard said the availability of quality air transportation can only help recruit potential companies. He said there could be an impact but doesn't think it is the end all if there isn't, however.
"It would affect all business, not just that project," Hubbard said. "I believe this particular project would still work because it would be local workers and the corporate people who would need to come here for it would probably have their own jets and bring themselves in. However, that is asking a lot of any business and it would be preferable if we had a good, steady for their managers and consultants to arrive here. I'm sure it will have some effect, but hopefully it wouldn't have the type of effect that would make it a non-viable project."
The county has yet to move on to the final stage of the plan and is not bound to do so. Hubbard said those who are wondering about the details of the project probably are going to have to wait some time.
"I would say we won't say anything about the particulars at least until after the second phase and maybe not even until the third phase is under way," Hubbard said. "Maybe sooner if the commissioners were to decide not to go on to the third phase."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.