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Economic Opus: Interlohen’s ripple effect on Northern Michigan’s economy

You probably know the Interlochen Center for the Arts summer camp, the live concerts, and the alumni list, which includes more than just a fair share of superstars. But what impact does the world-famous arts organization have on the entire economy in northern Michigan? A 2017 internal Interlochen study found that $ 8.9 million was paid to vendors in the Grand Traverse region in a single year alone, and that Interlochen paid $ 13.3 million over a five-year period has spent on construction projects, with local businesses as the main beneficiaries. About 700 local suppliers sell to Interlochen each year, including Tom’s Food Market, Grand Traverse Pie Company, and D&W Mechanical. But its reach extends beyond these companies into the larger community.

It all starts with the students: According to Simone Silverbush, Director of Media Relations and Communication, the Interlochen Arts Academy enrolled 503 boarding school students and 42 day students in the 2020/21 school year. A total of 18 countries and territories were represented in the academy’s student body. The Interlochen Arts Camp, on the other hand, welcomes around 2,800 campers to three to six-week programs every summer.

With so many Interlochen students and campers arriving from all parts of the world, one of the biggest economic effects comes from air travel. According to Kevin Klein, director of Cherry Capital Airport, the airplanes associated with Interlochen are one of the biggest travelers. In fact, Interlochen has an entire student travel agency dedicated to working with students, parents, airlines and the institution in coordinating student trips to and from the Interlochen campus.

Joe McCarthy, Interlochen’s director of campus safety and transportation, estimates that the academy and arts camp combined account for between 2,000 and 3,000 student flights in a normal year.

On the academy’s side, McCarthy says Interlochen “will normally expect student flights in excess of 1,200 during the school year”. According to McCarthy, the academy has about 250 seniors in a typical year, many of whom fly across the country for college auditions in January and February. Auditions were mostly virtual this year, which meant less travel for the students.

The art camp is expected to have a total of around 800 flights this season between arrival at the beginning of the season, departure at the end of the season, and the changeover to mid-season (the mid-July period when a three-week camp session ends) and another begins). In an average summer, the number of people arriving and departing by air is even higher.

Not only students and campers have to come to and from the Interlochen campus. Luggage, furniture, musical instruments and works of art also travel in and out regularly. The Packaging Store on Barlow Street in Traverse City takes responsibility for these assets.

According to Robert Petersen, the company’s operator, The Packaging Store’s first dealings with Interlochen date back to “the late 80s or early 90s” when the franchise first received a contract to ship the academy and art camp . That contract lasted until 2012, when Petersen says Interlochen “did everything in-house and didn’t use any outside companies for shipping”. But when Interlochen sold its bookstore to a new owner in 2019, The Packaging Store got the contract back.

The contract in Interlochen makes for some very busy times every year.

“It’s a lot of volume in a short time,” he explains. “It will be busy weeks for us at the end of May or the beginning of June (when the academy’s students move out). And then to the summer camp, when that is over and all campers go home, the same thing. “

Over the years, through their relationship with Interlochen, Petersen and his team have grown accustomed to packing and shipping large or unusually shaped items – cellos, tubas and large “multidimensional sculptures” to name a few.

This relationship has also generated a significant amount of revenue. Petersen estimates that in the early days, before Interlochen took everything in-house, the contract accounted for up to 20 percent of the annual gross sales of his branch. Thanks to the pandemic, things have not been more or less normal in Interlochen since The Packaging Store won back this contract – and the store has also “grown very strongly” since 2012 – so Petersen does not know exactly how much of its income is now come from Interlochen. But even with a bigger business and a more diversified source of income, he estimates the academy and art camp will still account for 10-12 percent.

Interlochen also has a significant impact on the region’s hospitality industry and tourism. After the virtual pivot point for both the academy and the art camp last year, Interlochen has adopted a closed campus policy for this year. Since then, no performances have been open to the public, and parents and families are severely limited in their ability to visit or explore the campus during drop-off and pick-up times.

Both restaurants and hotels have felt the effects of these changes.

“We do about a third of what we would normally do in a summer season,” says Brian McAllister, who owns the Hofbrau Steak House & American Grille less than two miles north of the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

In an average year, the Hofbrau attracts many concert-goers, employees of the Interlochen Arts Camp and families. All of these businesses disappeared last summer; most of it has yet to come back.

“Because it’s a closed campus and capacity is partially full, there aren’t that many consultants or employees coming after 9:00 p.m.,” notes McAllister. “Parents or grandparents don’t come to see their children’s performances. You don’t get the concert traffic. So it’s like taking the Cherry Festival out of downtown Traverse City and saying, ‘Good luck’. There are just a lot of people who cannot be replaced. “

Tammy Bialik – the co-owner of the nearby Interlochen Motel – agrees with McAllister’s statements.

As the closest option for hotel or motel accommodation near the Interlochen campus, the Interlochen Motel with 14 rooms regularly has no free spaces around the most important calendar dates of the academy or the art camp.

For Bialik, it became clear early on in the pandemic how badly a disruption to the Interlochen calendar could affect their business. From the conclusion to the summer concerts of the Interlochen Arts Festival, the motel went “from completely booked to nothing” on several dates in spring and summer 2020.

The bright spot? After Interlochen resumed its concert series in August, Bialik is already experiencing a run-up to the motel.

“We’re already full for all these concerts,” she says. “August 3rd for Chicago, August 10th for Harry Connick, Jr. These are Tuesdays and we’re full.”

She evaluates Interlochen’s unique community as a point of attraction for larger groups of visitors when Interlochen is “fully reopened”.

“There is nothing like Interlochen for our area,” she said. “We still have the weddings, we still have our fishermen we love, we have groups of motorbikes that come by on the 22nd to do their rides. But we love our Interlochen parents. We follow their journey in the Over time, because they relegate “their children every year and we get to know them.”

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