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BLADE GATES: New Year, New Opportunity to Invest

While it may be too late for me to say "Happy New Year", it's great to be writing the first Chamber column of 2024. I don't know about you, but ever since the spring of 2020 when so much of our world was flipped upside down, time has really been flying. We're nearly halfway through the 2020s!

With any new year comes new developments for Manistee County. Here at the Manistee Area Chamber, I can only be excited to see what's in store for our community in 2024. In 2023 alone, the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce saw 28 new investors join the chamber. Investors come in all shapes and sizes, from new organizations to established non-profits to businesses made up of one employee.

Investing in a local chamber supports the community on many levels. On the one hand, being an investor is what allows us to host our Chamber programs: from exciting networking events like Chamber UnTapped and Business Awards Gala, to signature weekend-long events like the Manistee National Forest Festival, to Ribbon Cuttings for brand new businesses. On the other hand, investing in the Manistee Area Chamber supports our work in legislative advocacy. 

Really though, you can't undervalue the importance of Legislative Advocacy in the chamber scene. For example, the Manistee Area Chamber is a part of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, which allows us to create important relationships with legislators and key state officials. These relationships are vital. Making these connections is what allows us to not only secure funding for local projects, but to encourage these partners to continue to focus on rural northern Michigan. Ensuring that Manistee is seen at a state and even national level has profound effects on our community that, while may not be immediately visible, are deeply felt by everyone impacted.

This is not all investing in a chamber does. Economic Development shapes what type of businesses and services come to Manistee. Can you think of one or two businesses or organizations in Manistee County that, for you, make Manistee the place to be? The Manistee Area Chamber understands this: a single business has the potential to make significant positive changes for a community. In the same light, the Chamber's work in Economic Development gives citizens employment opportunities, provision of services, and is what allows our community to stand on its own two legs. 

In recent years, the Economic Development program fostered almost $50 million in completed catalyst projects with a new lakeshore hotel, an housing development, and the community college redevelopment.  The program recruited, advised, and assisted housing, hospitality, manufacturing, and other developments. The current development pipeline includes 24 projects, 530 housing units, and over $190 million in potential investment.  A program of Business Retention and Expansion visits with manufacturers also resulted in assistance and resources to create 58 new jobs.  Finally we advised and assisted with the creation or relocation of 28 new businesses and over 150 jobs.


Investing in your local chamber also gives you Leadership & Professional Development. The Manistee Area Leadership Program provides a unique opportunity for locals to be developed into the next generation of leaders and business professionals. "The Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program provides participants with a comprehensive understanding of the community, its challenges, and its opportunities." says Carmen Kott, Operations Manager of the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, "Not only does the participant develop leadership skills but also fosters a network of professionals committed to making a positive impact in the community. As an individual and leader who is local to the area, it amazes me how much I didn’t know — it truly is an amazing opportunity!"

All of this doesn't mention the Chamber's work on Downtown Manistee. Manistee's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is what allocates funds for improvements on Manistee's River Street. The DDA strives to make Downtown Manistee attractive and a place that strengthens businesses, all encompassed in the value of community ownership. If you asked someone to imagine any given down, for many, the downtown district is one of the first things to come to mind. Our DDA strives to make Downtown Manistee one of the best places to be.

This is an exciting time for Manistee. The beginning of the 2020s were unarguably a tumultuous time for just about everyone. However, I am encouraged to see how Manistee— and West Michigan as a whole— is continuing to build momentum that will provide our community vitality for years to come.

Blade Gates is the Marketing & Communications Specialist for the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit 501 C (6) organization. Our mission is to build a dynamic and sustainable organization to serve the Business, Workforce, and Economic Development needs of all in Manistee County. You can contact Gates at 231-723-2575 or