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Manistee County has become a beacon on the map of Michigan communities. A place where many people come to vacation, only to leave wishing they could live here.

Visitors watch with envy as residents relax on a Sunday afternoon instead of returning home for their work week. We have everything we need right here: a strong manufacturing backbone, small businesses to provide goods and services, and all the recreation northern Michigan has to offer.

Our community is growing with several major projects that will have long-term and sustaining benefits to both residents and visitors. These projects come with an overwhelming array of permits, rules, assumptions and unknowns. These create this complicated map that investors must follow to succeed. Maps can help us navigate unfamiliar territory, and a critical part of finding your way is the map’s key and knowing how to use it. In Manistee County, the chamber of commerce is key to these major projects and our community’s success.

Our chamber of commerce has a diverse membership of investors from every facet of the business community. From industry-leading facilities across Manistee County to mom-and-pop shops in Bear Lake, all have found a spot at the chamber’s table.

The chamber’s investors do not stop at businesses, instead acting as the driving force to bring together diverse entities such as the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the U.S. Forest Service and the city of Manistee to name a few. Finally, it includes critical community service providers like nonprofits, education, energy suppliers, healthcare and transportation.

Chamber investors are represented by a professional and highly skilled staff working to meet their best interests. These interests are attained through stakeholder visits, phone calls, emails or immediate representation on the board of directors.

The mission of building a dynamic and sustainable organization for the business, workforce and economic development needs of all in Manistee County is supported further through the participation of Chamber Ambassadors. This team is made up of highly motivated and caring volunteers from the chamber investors.

The Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce is known statewide as a leader in serving its business members, our community and developers. The staff channels its experience and connections with local, regional, state and federal resources to utilize any opportunities, giving Manistee County investors the support they need to succeed.

The chamber President and CEO Stacie Bytwork regularly advocates for our community. As an active member of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, she takes the interests of every business member, organization of the chamber,and community everywhere she goes.

Current areas of advocacy include affordable housing, childcare and small business. You can find updates on the latest legislative advocacy efforts at The passionate voice of the chamber has attracted elected officials and developers of all kinds, who can recognize that Manistee County is ready for investment.

Fricano’s Manistee River, The Hampton Inn & Suites and the Spirit of the Woods Gateway Project have been in the limelight lately. These new projects and businesses will have opportunities for both residents and visitors to enjoy. The benefit of replacing dilapidated buildings with new construction is reason enough to celebrate the investors behind these projects.

We all must work together to make sure their dreams become part of our reality, acknowledging that these opportunities do not just happen on their own. Each of these projects has involved significant risk for the investors, and more is to come.

The chamber staff have worked collaboratively to close gaps, find solutions and keep projects feasible; and that is why they are key. At times it is difficult to see progress and there is understandable frustration and concern. By expanding our sights to the bigger picture, we know that these projects will succeed. When we change our perspective, it is easier to see more reasons to be supportive. But new businesses are not the only investments that the chamber is working on.

Existing businesses benefit from the talents, skills and advocacy of the chamber staff as well. An excellent example is the assistance provided to North Channel Brewing in securing $100,000 to expand canning operations. This grant significantly expanded the business, which started inside a once-blighted furniture outlet.

Chamber staff is consistently available to both new and existing businesses, assisting with relocations, grant opportunities and any other problems they may be experiencing. The economic development focus of the chamber effectively unifies our community, promoting public service and community development.

Staff is more than qualified to assist developers and businesses, Marc Miller, director of economic development for the chamber has experience as a former senior policy adviser to the lieutenant fovernor of Illinois and director of the Illinois DNR.

Not only is the chamber leading in legislative advocacy, economic development and leadership, but also puts its work into action as the director of the Manistee Downtown Development Authority.

Since taking leadership as the director of the DDA, the chamber has expanded the former Downtown Dollars program to manistee county ca$h. This change allows greater participation from both consumers and businesses.

The introduction of The ‘Stee social district invites mature consumers to shop with a beverage downtown, or while they wait for a table during busy times — expanding the capacity of any restaurant that participates.

Finally, the new platform dining options have allowed restaurants to thrive during periods when indoor dining was restricted or extra capacity was needed. These projects were all made possible in part by the chamber’s leadership and investors’ efforts.

To support the chamber as the key to our map, pause and answer the question, “What has the chamber done for me?” Business leaders can consider the impact on your bottom line that the past, present and future investments make.

Does your business benefit from the increased foot traffic in the social district? Do your employees have a higher quality of life living in a town that meets their needs and expectations? Are you a resident because of the investments made in our community? Has your nonprofit grown after attending a common ground event like Chamber Untapped, or been a recipient during the Big Day of Serving from the chamber’s Leadership Program?

The professional services that the chamber provides are only attainable because of the collaborative efforts of businesses, local government and the community — who individually, could not sustain these services.

I urge you to support our chamber and the investments they are trying to bring to this community and ask you to consider how you can help. The chamber is always looking for motivated individuals to volunteer their time, effort and resources to make our community a better place.

Dyllan Walker is a member of the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He can be reached at, or 231-723-2575.