Operation Action U.P. annual meeting set

MARQUETTE – A group of regional business leaders will gather this week to discuss workforce development and energy infrastructure in the Upper Peninsula.

Tawni Ferrarini, co-chair of Operation Action U.P., said recent research sheds new light on the demographics of the area.

For years, research has shown that young people are leaving the U.P. at a fairly rapid pace, but new data shows that middle-aged people are also leaving at a steady pace, she said, adding that group is key to the workforce.

“Businesses are growing, but they aren’t seeing that the body of the labor force is growing at the same pace,” said Ferrarini, who is a professor of economics at Northern Michigan University. “There appears to be a gap.”

So when OAUP – which has representatives from around the U.P. – gathers in Marquette Friday for its annual meeting, the group will discuss how to better retain those regional workers.

Ferrarini said the data doesn’t explain why those groups of people are leaving, but she speculated it could have to do with cost-of-living increases and relatively high energy prices.

According to Ferrarini, OAUP – which she describes as the “longest-standing regional organization in the Upper Peninsula” – has a private sector emphasis and exists to bring key stakeholders together. Friday’s meeting is the organization’s big event for the year.

“The hope of the organization is that we can identify the key challenges, in terms of workforce development and energy infrastructure,” she said. “The goal is to grow the U.P. In order to do that, we need to get on the same page.”

The energy infrastructure panel will include Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, and Thomas Nagy, vice president of the western region utility division for MJ Electric LLC.

The workforce development panel will include state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, as well as Joe Quick, manager of talent acquisition for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Tom Watkins, a business and educational consultant.

Included in Friday’s activities are award presentations recognizing several businesses or institutional employers that have made positive contributions to the economy of the U.P.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.