Robert Downes 7/13/09
Our Magic Bubble
The recession doesn‘t seem to be putting much of a dent in Northern Michigan this summer, where cool weather has driven tourists off the beaches and into stores and restaurants to benefit the region‘s economy.
Anecdotally, we‘ve heard from our writers that tourism is down in some of the smaller towns around Northern Michigan, but you wouldn‘t know that in Traverse City, where we‘re recovering from the National Cherry Festival and its 500,000 visitors, while bracing for the TC Film Festival to start at the end of the month. The sidewalks in town were packed in early July as we weathered temperatures that seemed more in line with October. Rest assured, tourists, we locals also look forward to beach weather, since we‘re barely out of our winter coats.
But like the weather, the recession seems to have had a silver lining for Northern Michigan, and perhaps the state itself. Consider:
Anne Stanton‘s recent articles on the meltdown of the local auto parts industry offered some encouraging news on the flip side of manufacturing in Michigan.
While the auto parts industry is in the ditch, local manufacturers are shifting gears to create innovative new products. Stanton‘s June 29 article, “Darwin‘s Law,“ pointed out the success of local manufacturers such as Tellurex, Opti Temp, Microline and Petoskey Plastics, who are exploring new technologies and markets that don‘t rely on the cyclical nature of the auto industry.
Consider that Michigan is packed with former auto part makers who are also thinking “outside the box“ on ways to compete globally with new technology and products. Given that, we need to think of Michigan as being in the process of reinventing itself, not down for the count.
Our region is also becoming a magnet for the well-to-do, which will boost jobs, real estate and business. An article in this month‘s Traverse City Business News notes that private jet visits are skyrocketing at Cherry Capital Airport. Nearly 4,000 private jets or charter aircraft landed here last July, with 4,138 in August. Those jet arrivals are expected to increase this year.
Wealthy visitors and celebs are flying in to attend the month-long Horse Shows by the Bay and the TC Film Festival. Was that Oprah, Madonna and Mel Gibson we saw at last week‘s cherry pie eating contest? Probably not, but they‘ve been spotted visiting the region. As word gets around the celebrity world, perhaps Northern Michigan will turn into some version of Malibu North.
Speaking of those festivals, Horse Shows by the Bay is bringing in 1,500 horses and riders along with thousands of support personnel from 34 states, Canada and Mexico. Up to 1,000 spectators are expected each week of the event, which runs July 8-Aug. 2. That‘s money, honey -- pumped into businesses throughout the region.
Similarly, filmmaker Michael Moore expects to exceed last year‘s mark of 80,000 admissions to the Film Festival, which celebrates its fifth anniversary July 29-Aug. 2. The festival will feature 71 films, representing more than 30 countries. Major film stars and directors will be in town for the red carpet treatment.
Bonus: the Film Festival will screen a 40th anniversary cut of the Woodstock concert film, with never-seen footage as well as appearances by some of those who performed at the 1969 event. Moore will also host the 20th anniversary screening of Roger & Me, which launched his career -- again, with special guests from the film attending. Let‘s hope former GM boss Roger Smith has been invited...
Well, you get the picture; despite the doom & gloom in the news, we‘re privileged to live in something of a magic bubble here in Northern Michigan, where the local economy has been blessed by those who dare to innovate and create while others despair.
Here at the Express we‘re grateful to have sidestepped the ruin of the mainstream press in other parts of the country, and are thrilled to be part of this dynamic community.
But nationally, even the alternative newsweekly genre has been hit by the recession.
As an example, I traveled to Chicago and New York earlier this summer and found that the once-robust Chicago Reader, NY Press and Village Voice have become shadows of their former selves. The Chicago Reader used to be a three or four-section brick, but now it‘s about the same size as one of our summer issues. Alternative newspapers across the country are slitting their own throats by dumping cartoons and popular columns and moving their entertainment listings online. Ultimately, they give their readers fewer reasons to pick up their papers.
No worries on that score at the Express, where we‘ve added to our writing staff and have maintained our page count over prior years.
This isn‘t to say that we‘re all sailing on the Good Ship Lollipop, but a rising tide lifts all ships and ultimately, the good things happening in Northern Michigan will benefit us all.