Western Marquette County residents affected by the indefinite idling of the Empire Mine could benefit from a planned Northern Michigan University study of how other cities that faced mine closings successfully diversified their economies to retain and grow jobs.
NMU’s Center for Rural Community and Economic Development is receiving $55,000 in funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to perform the study for Project Empire.
Gov. Rick Snyder created Project Empire as a response team of state agencies to assist western Marquette County in addressing the economic and social challenges brought on by the 2016 indefinite idling of the Empire Mine and the loss of about 300 jobs.
Michael Broadway, an NMU earth, environmental and geographical sciences professor, will serve as the center’s lead researcher on the study on rebuilding mining communities after a mine closure. Bob Eslinger, interim dean of the College of Technology and Occupational Sciences, will assist with portions of the economic impact and workforce research. NMU students will also be a part of the study’s research team.
“Our primary goal is to identify successful examples of economic diversification after a mine closing that will help local community leaders develop recommendations that would have strong potential to lead to population and economic regrowth in the cities and townships most impacted by the recent mine closing,” Broadway said.
Broadway added that the loss of mining jobs in western Marquette County is part of a long-term decline dating back almost a century. The population peaked for Negaunee and Ishpeming more than 100 years ago and each city’s population has fallen by a half since then.
“At the same time, future population growth without strategic planning looks bleak due to the percentage of people under the age of 18 falling over the last 20 years as well as deaths exceeding births for Marquette County as a whole,” Broadway said.
The study will focus on cities and towns in North America that have successfully diversified their economies after mine closures.
“We want to help the residents by making these communities stronger for years to come, creating more and better jobs,” MEDC President and CEO Steve Arwood said. “This study could be a blueprint for us to do exactly that, learning from other communities that have faced similar challenges and prevailed.”
Ishpeming City Manager Mark Slown and Negaunee Mayor Don Gladwell both said they welcome the study and are grateful for any assistance from the State of Michigan and the university.
The study is set to begin in May.