U.P. Profiles - Keweenaw County

Keweenaw County is the most northern county in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. With approximately 2,156 residents, Keweenaw County is the least populated county in Michigan. Spread across 540.97 square miles, many of the residents of Keweenaw County are descendants of miners. (Northern Michigan University’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, 2012) With the highest proportion of water area to total area of all the counties in the United States (Keweenaw County, 2013), one of Keweenaw County’s biggest assets is its geography. The county is home to twenty-three parks and beaches, ten waterfalls, six scenic drives, twelve lighthouses, four guided tours (Keweenaw Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, 2012), a golf course, hiking and biking trails, skiing and snowmobile trails, safe harbors, and migratory bird flyways (Keweenaw County, 2013). Some of the main attractions include the Brockway Mountain Drive, the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, Mount Bohemia, the Keweenaw Water Trail, the Keweenaw Underwater Preserve, Isle Royal, and Fort Wilkins State Park (Keweenaw Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, 2012).

Resources and Assets
“Nature-based tourism” is important to Keweenaw County’s economy. Tourism and recreation have increased with the use of public-access facilities to Lake Superior and the use of undeveloped land for creating trail systems for non-motorized and motorized sports (Keweenaw County, 2013). In Keweenaw County, 11.11 percent of employed residents work in retail trade and 14.9 percent of employed residents work in arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services, for a total of 26.01 percent of residents working in tourism related industries. This trend is unique to Keweenaw County as only 9.09 percent of Michigan employed residents and only 8.86 percent of employed residents in the United States work in arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services (USA.com, 2013). Overall, Lake Superior, smaller inland lakes, the forest, the rolling hills and the mountain peaks have been one of the area’s most significant assets as they have attracted visitors from outside the county and created tourism jobs for county residents.

Keweenaw County is adequately supported by several community economic development institutions (CEDIs) including the Keweenaw County Economic Committee, the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance (KEDA), the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce, and the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region. The support from these entities should be considered a strength and an opportunity for Keweenaw County.

Areas of Advancement
In Keweenaw County, there is only one school in Grant Township and it is a one room schoolhouse (Copper Harbor Schools, 2012). Another school, Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw (CLK) Public Schools, which is located in Calumet, MI (Houghton County) also serves students who live in Keweenaw County (The Public Schools of Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw, 2013).

All of the townships in Keweenaw County have shown that they value education and care about the future of their communities by supporting an extra-voted millage for the Copper County Intermediate School District and an extra-voted millage for school debt (Anderson, 2013). This is a sustainable practice for investing in their community.

There aren’t community colleges or vocational or trades schools in the county (Northern Michigan University’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, 2012), so this is an area for advancement. In fact, only 8.8 percent of people in Keweenaw County have an associate’s degree and 68.4 percent have some college education or less (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). But, the presence of Michigan Technological University (MTU) in Houghton, MI should be considered an opportunity for Keweenaw County.

The median household income in Keweenaw County is $42,406, but 44 percent of the households in the county make under $35,000 a year (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Having the support of a community college, or a vocational or trade school, would help create economic development for both citizens and the county because the main goal of a community college is to provide job specific training for people in the community (Anglin, 2011, p. 195).

While no data could be found on business start-ups in Keweenaw County specifically, Houghton County, Keweenaw County’s southern neighbor, has a small business incubator called MTEC SmartZone. SmartZone works with MTU, KEDA, and the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce and is connected to statewide economic development organizations. The goal of SmartZone is to increase employment, wealth and recognition for the Upper Peninsula by providing facilities and resources to help business succeed. (MTEC-SmartZone, 2013)

There are no airports located in Keweenaw County, but there is a regional airport in Houghton County, the Houghton County Memorial Airport. The only major highway going through Keweenaw County is U-S 41 (Northern Michigan University’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, 2012). Because these are the only modes of transportation, mobility may be considered an area for advancement.

Keweenaw County has many assets including regional support from CEDIs, sustainable practices regarding investment in education, innovation in the public sector with business incubators, and natural resources and beautiful landscapes to attract tourists. Some areas for advancement include workforce development and mobility.


As an academic service learning project to assist Marquette's Lake Superior Community Partnership, the Northern Michigan University Master of Public Administration (MPA) program collected a set of comprehensive data during 2013-14 for each of Michigan's 15 Upper Peninsula counties. The study was made possible by a grant through the Michigan State University Extension Office.