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The Gamechangers Part 7: Building a Vibrant Economy… and an Inclusive Community

How much can a place change in 10 years? This question has been a driving force since the beginning of the Gamechangers series – which The Ticker concludes today with this part about the 2010s. And while the years between 2010 and 2019 all seem like they just happened yesterday, they also brought major changes to Traverse City that have profoundly impacted the place’s culture and commerce. So join us one last time on our journey back to another version of Traverse City and explore the events that led us to today.

2012: A new chapter for Traverse City’s business scene

Attempts to diversify Grand Traverse’s economy beyond its long-standing core pillars — namely agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing — date back decades. However, after the Great Recession of the early 2010s, a new conversation about economic development and growth began to take hold – one that focused on entrepreneurship, technology and innovation. In the years that followed, most of the major economic development organizations in northern Michigan were revved up and launched one after the other.

For example, in 2012 the Northern Michigan Angels were formed, “a group of investors focused on scalable entrepreneurial companies whose potential success will impact Michigan’s economy and quality of life.” Next, in 2015, local entrepreneur Russell Schindler — CEO of environmental sampling company SampleServe — founded TCNewTech, a series of startup pitch night events often compared to Shark Tank on TV. That same year, Traverse Connect was formed, a regional economic development organization aimed at growing and diversifying the economy of Northwest Michigan.

In 2016, local businessman Casey Cowell joined. Concerned that Traverse City was becoming increasingly reliant on festivals, Cowell felt compelled to push for a more balanced economy. “My first question was, ‘Where’s the high-value business community on this? Are they here, and if so, why aren’t they committed to the direction our community is taking?'” Cowell previously told The Ticker. Cowell’s involvement resulted in two new economic development ventures in 2016: his own Boomerang Catapult, a venture capital firm that invests in local startups; and Front Street Irregulars, an informal cadre of local Traverse City professionals who have been involved in everything from pushing high-speed fiber optic Internet in northern Michigan to starting a local technology incubator.

Speaking of tech incubators, in 2017 Schindler and TCNewTech launched an initiative to find a space in Traverse City where tech-savvy startups rent offices, attend seminars, and more. Working with Cowell and others, Schindler eventually found a home for the incubator at 101 North Park. Originally called Startology, the incubator was eventually renamed 20Fathoms, which continues to operate to this day — albeit not in its original downtown location.

Fast forward to 2022 and Traverse City is becoming an increasingly important destination for young professionals, tech entrepreneurs, startups and companies looking to relocate. The organizations discussed above have all played a role in this evolution, and they have all achieved great success along the way.

For example, when the Northern Michigan Angels celebrated their 10th anniversary in March, the organization announced that its members had invested over $7.4 million in small businesses in its first decade. Boomerang Catapult put Northern Michigan on the aerospace map by bringing ATLAS Space Operations to Traverse City and has assisted other area entities such as Taste the Local Difference and Promethient. Growing local success stories like HybridRobotics and FirstIgnite introduced themselves to the community on the TCNewTech stage. 20Fathoms has helped create successful innovators in industries such as healthcare (HealthBridge Financial) and renewable energy (Birch Infrastructure). And Traverse Connect, which officially merged with the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce on January 1, 2020, is behind key talent attraction initiatives like Michigan’s Creative Coast and Northern Navigators, among many other services and features.

Incidentally, today (May 15) is the final day of Northern Michigan Startup Week 2022, an entrepreneurship-focused event that counts all of the above organizations as organizers, sponsors, or community partners.

2014: Up North Pride begins

Speaking to The Ticker in August 2020, Chasten Buttigieg — a native of Traverse City and husband of former Democratic presidential nominee Pete Buttigieg — said that when it comes to LGBTQ+ visibility, acceptance and advocacy, Traverse City “has really pushed the needle really far, really fast.” . and inclusion. When Buttigieg was in high school (he graduated from West Senior High in 2007), he said he didn’t feel safe speaking openly about who he was. “I took it for granted: you don’t come out, you don’t talk about it, and if you do, really bad things could happen to you,” he explained.

Arguably no milestone has “spurred on” the local LGBTQ+ community more than the formation of Up North Pride, the Traverse City Pride celebration, which debuted in 2014.

According to the Up North Pride website, the organization and the gathering it holds each year “were initiated when a directly identified mother of four asked why there was no Pride festival in Traverse City and how important it was to her they raise children in a community that celebrates diversity.” Hearing this call, co-founders Jonny Cameron, Elon Cameron and Marta Turnbull followed and organized the first Up North Pride Visibility March in downtown Traverse City.

Before the pandemic, the Up North Pride celebration grew every year. In 2014 around 300 people took part in the Visibility March. Two years later, the parade was ten times larger. In 2019, the Visibility March crowd totaled 6,000, making the event the largest LGBTQ+ pride march in the entire state of Michigan.

Over the years, Up North Pride has expanded beyond the Visibility March, adding everything from a popular drag night at The Little Fleet to youth outreach and LGBTQ+ storytelling events. The organization has also become a major player in LGBTQ+ advocacy and community building in northern Michigan, partnering with local businesses and organizations such as Traverse City Tourism, Traverse Area District Library, Downtown Development Authority, Traverse City Arts Commission, My Secret Stash, Iron Fish Distillery and more to keep moving the needle.

Speaking to ticker sister publication Northern Express in 2020, Jonny Cameron noted how Up North Pride and the local LGBTQ+ community in general “felt the love and support from a lot of organizations and institutions in this area that we just didn’t have [in 2014].”

“We’re letting them take steps with us to ensure this place continues to be more inclusive and safe,” Cameron said. “And the allies who have supported us in this movement have been with us on a learning journey. They asked things like, “Okay, you’re trans. What are pronouns? How can I be an ally? How can I help?’ That’s why we’ve continuously trained in this community a wonderful band of allies who bring this work to their workplace and home.”

This year’s Up North Pride is scheduled to take place from September 28th to October 2nd.

Rewatch the rest of the Gamechangers series below!

Part 1: The 1950s

Part 2: The 1960s

Part 3: The 1970s

Part 4: The 1980s

Part 5: The 1990s

Part 6: The 2000s

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