MARQUETTE, Mich.— Northern Michigan University will launch a Center for Rural Community and Economic Development in January. The move was authorized by the NMU Board of Trustees at its Dec. 10 meeting. Seed money to cover the first three years of operation will come from external grant funding designated solely for economic development activities. The center will become self-sustaining by January 2014. Its mission is to combine research, public service, education and training to enhance economic development and improve the quality of life in the Upper Peninsula and surrounding region. “NMU has been active in regional economic development for many years,” said Susan Koch, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Contributions are being made in a number of areas, such as workforce development, regional economic research and entrepreneurship. The center will bring those efforts and new ones together under one banner to better serve economic and community development needs throughout the region while enhancing the educational experiences of our students.” The Center for Rural Community and Economic Development will serve as a vital link between the region’s public, private and non-profit sectors in the Upper Peninsula and bordering counties in Wisconsin. It will collect, analyze and disseminate data, conduct and publish applied research and provide training and professional development. Brian Cherry, head of the political science and public administration, and Tawni Ferrarini, economics professor and Sam. M. Cohodas Professor, will serve as co-directors. Cherry will focus on the public sector piece. Ferrarini will oversee efforts to bring market economics and entrepreneurship ideas to the private sector and help existing businesses with new-growth strategies such as exporting products. “Our goal is to be a leader not only in the region, but in the nation,” said Ferrarini. “We want to be the go-to center for other rural entities and gain national recognition for that in five to 10 years.” Trustee Jon LaSalle said, “There is a great need for this type of coordination in the region. It has been strangely missing from other economic development activities. NMU’s effort will be university based and focused. There is a lot of work to be done and how we can leverage our resources remains to be seen, but NMU is stepping in to fill a need that is unmet at this point.” Koch said the center is a formal recognition of what is already taking place on campus. This includes the College of Professional Studies’ workforce development programs and power/electrical line technician programs; the College of Business’ entrepreneurship academy and Bureau of Business and Economic Research; and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Studio for Experimental and Eco-Design (SEED) and Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship. She added that the Center of Resources for Enterprise (CORE), established in 2009, will continue and be fully engaged with the new center.