Putting the SUPER in superhighway
Living in Otsego County doesn’t mean compromising quality or worldwide access to customers and products. The area is attempting to stay ahead of technology by building a Metropolitan Area Network (MAN). Three miles of underground fiber optic cabling now connect all Gaylord schools as well as city and county government facilities. The technology provides broadband Internet service, high-end reliability and wireless Internet hotspots for travelers.
According to Eric Seelye, who provides technical support for the system through Empiric Solutions, businesses once sought reliable electricity and the accessibility of well-developed roadways. Today, reliable telephone and telecommunications services are key in location/relocation plans.
“We are controlling our destiny,” said Jack Thompson, University Center Executive Director. “Through the implementation of this and future phases, Otsego County will continue to preserve its place as a preferred business location and maintain a high quality of life.”
The advanced technology is possible through a community-wide collaboration. The University Center at Gaylord is the managing partner of a group of education, business and government partners who are sharing resources and costs. The system’s initial installation was paid for in cash. Upgrades are being planned, including laying more underground fiber optic cable.
In addition to the technological benefits, the UCMAN has created cost savings for taxpayers and private participants by sharing technical staff, networking hardware and reducing individual payments for more traditional services. Based on a study, the Otsego County Government, Gaylord Community Schools and the University Center at Gaylord have saved approximately $286,000 through partnering on the enhanced technology.
Beyond boosting local businesses, the local UCMAN enables travelers to remain in contact with their offices, friends and families by providing wireless hot spots for Internet connections. Currently, travelers — whether in Otsego County on business or vacation — may pull into the Glen’s Shopping Plaza in Gaylord and check their e-mail or surf the web on their wireless laptops.
Four I-75 interchanges provide residents, travelers, truckers and business people easy access to Otsego County. Other north-south routes serving the county include U.S. 131 and Old 27, which connect Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Otsego Lake, Waters and the counties of Crawford and Cheboygan. M-32, which runs east-west across the state from Traverse City to Alpena, links Gaylord, Johannesburg and Elmira.
Paving the way for industry
Local companies manufacture electronic components, particle board, brass and copper tubing, automotive dipstick tube assemblies, computer software, rubber components for the automotive industry, building materials and circuit boards — just to name a few. These products are shipped to customers throughout the United States — and in some cases, internationally.
As a way of assisting industry, the City of Gaylord has constructed two industrial parks, the newest of which opened in 2004. The new, 120-acre Gaylord Industrial Park offers access to I-75, Class A roads, street lights, municipal water and sewer service, storm sewers, natural gas, electrical service and telephone. In addition to the necessities, the park has pedestrian walkways and attractive green space. An additional 100 acres has been set aside for larger projects and future park development.
The original park, Gaylord Air Industrial Park, is located next to the Otsego County Airport and encompasses 166 acres with direct access to I-75 via two interchanges. Businesses have utilized the park’s Class A roads, municipal water and sewer service, natural gas, electrical power and telephone services — essentially filling its lots.
Providing specialized space for industry is just one way Otsego County is positioning itself for future growth while taking care of today’s business.
The aesthetic beauty and sense of community in Otsego County is drawing new businesses and residents. Between 1990 and 2000, the county’s population increased by nearly 30 percent. Now home for about 24,300 residents, the area is among the state’s five fastest-growing counties. The Michigan Department of Management and Budget predicts the county’s population will continue to grow at a rate of over 3 percent each year, reaching nearly 35,000 by 2020.
Residents in Otsego County are welcoming newcomers while taking steps to ensure their home remains an enjoyable place to raise a family and run a business. Through a series of community gatherings, a vision of what residents believe Otsego County should look like years from now has been established to guide the formation of land-use policies for Gaylord, Otsego County, Vanderbilt and nine surrounding townships. The policies will provide governmental bodies with tools that will help the area develop as a whole, creating consistency.
“If we have managed growth, we’re going to have a nicer area to live in,” said Regan Quaal, a local business owner and chairman of the Otsego County Economic Alliance. “I grew up in Gaylord and feel very fortunate to raise my family here. Managed growth is going to help Gaylord keep its charm, forests, open areas and 20-mile views.”
“People want balance, that’s become very clear,” said Otsego County Economic Alliance Executive Director Jeff Ratcliffe. “They want growth, but they don’t want to lose our up-north appeal.”
Spring 2004 saw the opening of the Edelweiss Village Shopping Center, just west of downtown Gaylord. Anchored by a new Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, the development is accommodating continued retail growth. Another shopping center is being constructed on West M-32.
In addition to business, residential housing, including multi-family and senior apartments, is being built in and around Gaylord, the county’s hub. The local economy is also seeing significant growth in the health care, real estate and financial services sectors.