Providing resources for communities and entrepreneurs to create and retain jobs in Antrim, Charlevoix & Cheboygan Counties.

Our Customer Stories

Learn how companies and communities are becoming fit for expansion and entrepreneurship, to create and retain jobs.


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“An established, strategic, economic development organization is essential to the fiscal health for our communities by supporting business growth, expanding the tax base, providing jobs for our residents, and bringing new jobs and residents to our region.” – Carlin Smith, former President, Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, 2019

“Spearheaded by the NLEA’s efforts and coordination, the leadership team of Manthei Veneer was able to meet with representatives from the MEDC, USDA, MDARD and Michigan Works within a week of the fire. Many of our questions were answered during these meetings which ultimately helped lead to the decision to rebuild our operations in Emmet County, resulting in over 100 local jobs retained and annual purchases of over $7 million in goods and services from local businesses.

In addition to the NLEA’s support in the weeks right after the fire, the NLEA has been instrumental in helping us secure the following in relation to our rebuilding efforts:

  • $470k tax abatement with Resort Township
  • $280k grant from the MEDC through the Michigan Strategic Fund
  • USDA Rural Development loan guarantee for funds borrowed from a local bank
  • $1.2 million Great Lakes Energy 0% interest loan in cooperation with the USDA
  • Biomass energy feasibility study through MDARD and US Forest Service”

Joe Zielinski, CFO Manthei Veneer, 2019

“As a relatively new business in Bear Creek Township, we have benefited directly from the support and work of NLEA and are in the middle of a $300,000+ capital expansion project to bring more investment and jobs to our District and County. Much of the work that NLEA does is behind the scenes and not front and center. But their value cannot go unnoticed.

Just two weeks ago we became one of the first 100 homes to be connected to the new high speed fiber internet provided by Truestream and Great Lakes Energy. NLEA helped make this happen. Just three months ago we were connected directly with state granting agencies to pursue state support for our expansion project that we were previously unaware of. NLEA helped make this connection. And two months ago we were awarded a $10,000 Michigan Good Food Fund Grant. NLEA sent us the original email alerting us of our eligibility.” – Anne & Brian Bates, Bear Creek Organic Farm, 2019




“As the current Village President of Alanson and previous member of the Alanson DDA, I have personally seen the benefits of the County’s membership with NLEA. In the past, the Village has used the NLEA for various projects and professional assistance. Probably the most important service they provided us with, was the creation of our DDA itself. Without their guidance and support this Authority would not exist. Since the establishment of the DDA, the NLEA has continued to support and assist us with professional knowledge of new laws and regulations, grant writing to secure funds, and information seminars for residents and business leaders.

With the economical environment the past eight years, our DDA did not receive any TIF funding and relied on fundraising and grants to fund our projects. Without the help of the NLEA, we would have not been able to survive these past years. We are happy to report that as of 2018, we are once again receiving TIF funding.” – Greg Babcock, President, Village of Alanson, 2019



“The Village of Pellston has been a member of NLEA for nearly twenty years and has contributed financially to the operation of NLEA each or those years.

The assistance, advice, and information we have received during that time from NLEA has been immeasurable. Without their guidance we would not have received the grants to successfully completed our one-million-dollar streetscape or a number of other smaller grant opportunities their staff has help us obtain.

As a small village we are not fortunate enough to have a staff of advisers, so we rely on NLEA for information and help.” – James Gillett, President, Village of Pellston, 2019


“Going into my first internship feeling intimidated, NLEA created a fun learning environment!” – Isabel Hess, NLEA intern, 2018





“Working as an intern at NLEA meant I was given the opportunity to work on a meaningful project in an area I care so much about. You meet a lot of great people that share that same interest of work and you leave having a newfound appreciation for economic development.” – Andy Atkinson, NLEA intern, 2018




“Working at the NLEA was an amazing summer job. I was able to meet a lot of great people across Northern Michigan, and learn about many different career opportunities. This was an invaluable opportunity, and I have used the skills I learned over, and over again.” – Sydney Smith, NLEA intern, 2017 




“Interning at NLEA was one of the best experiences I had in college. It opened me up to future internship and job opportunities and allowed me the chance to work with a fun, dynamic group.” – Amanda Fischer, NLEA intern, 2017 




“The experience of being an NLEA intern gave me the opportunity to learn and expand in the professional world, as well as connected me with amazing business professionals in Northern Michigan” – Brad Berkau, NLEA Intern 2016





“NLEA provides an internship experience unlike most programs offered to young college students. As an intern, I was allowed creative freedom and significant autonomy to make an extensive hands-on project my own while serving the communities of Northern Michigan. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!” – Alison Burnell, NLEA Intern 2016







“The NLEA is an excellent partner with NW MI Works. They work closely with our MI Works Business Liaisons to assist area companies with talent-related needs and challenges.  These visits are important to relationship building and serve as a driver for economic prosperity across the region.  The NLEA staff is top-notch and our teams communicate with each other with tremendous regularity.” – Terry Vandercook, NW MI Works!, 2018




“The NLEA’s approach of cooperation and collaboration has become an economic development organization best practice.  It is a great way to pool limited resources as a means to provide direct, professional services.  In addition, their public/private partnership approach saves valuable time and resources.  The NLEA is a solid partner with Networks Northwest and we appreciate our close working relationship.” –Matt McCauley, Networks Northwest, 2018

“It has been great working with NLEA as we find our new home in Emmet County. They’ve been helpful from site searches, site consulting, to explaining and pursuing various business development incentives.” – Casey McKinney, Lanzen Corporation, 2018

“While President and CEO of Citizens National Bank I was part of the team, including former Chairperson Linda Socha, that negotiated the entry of Cheboygan County into NLEA in 2008. I subsequently served on the Board and was Chairperson of NLEA. The County’s affiliation with NLEA has been a resounding success in terms of leveraging its dollars for economic development. $40,000 per year for ten years has resulted in a return of over $39,000,000.” – Jim Conboy, Cheboygan, 2018







“From hours after the fire igniting, to the end of the tax abatement process, to now, it has been a pleasure working with NLEA.” – Jeremy Manthei, Manthei Veneer, Inc. 2018




“Of the many grant applications I review, those coordinated by Northern Lakes Economic Alliance staff are the most complete and well prepared. It’s always a pleasure to review proposals the NLEA staff has worked on; it makes my job easier!” – Alan Anderson, Area Specialist-USDA Rural Development, 2018







“The NLEA was very helpful and supportive in guiding us through the process of establishing an Industrial Development District for our new plant expansion in Norwood Township. Their expertise in working with local governmental boards and the necessary Public Hearing requirements resulted in our company receiving the maximum tax abatement allowed. Our thanks to their staff for the thought and care we received that will allow us grow and provide more jobs in Charlevoix County.” – Alex Mitchell, President AM Manufacturing, 2018





“The NLEA is a welcome partner and asset for me while working through Northern Michigan. As I am only one voice, the NLEA serves as the front line of communication and direct link to economic resources for both communities and local businesses. Over the past 5 years with the MEDC Community Action Team, I’ve relied on their assistance and expertise to help uncover impactful economic development related projects and work through the initial process smoother up-front and also stay with the project throughout the process until the end. I look forward to continued growth and prosperity to the region with their service.” – Dan Leonard, MEDC Community Development Team, 2018




“The NLEA has been a great resource for Link Industries. We know that no matter what our challenge, one phone call is all it takes. The NLEA staff does all the legwork to get the right people and agencies together to address our needs.

We’ve experienced much growth over the past few years and have hired many new people. NLEA helped us obtain grants for skilled worker training and as a result we have upgraded the skills of 20 full-time employees and continue to invest in facility and new CNC machine technology. This enables us to continue to grow and be competitive.” – Jeff Veryser, General Manager Link Industries, 2018






“Moran Iron Works has had a long standing relationship with NLEA. They have provided us with guidance, wisdom and most of all, a network of support. NLEA is part of our consulting family and we rely on them to consider our unique manufacturing operation and place in northern Michigan and advise us accordingly.” – Marilyn Kapp Moran, Vice President Moran Iron Works, Inc. 2018

“NLEA has been a powerful resource for our region. In at least 8 of the various economic and community development groups in Cheboygan County that I’m involved with, this knowledgeable group has offered assistance and direction in achieving our goals. As an example, NLEA is involved in the ongoing, much needed improvements in the small community I love (Topinabee). This includes business facade grants, trails projects, strategic planning, educational programs, etc. Partnerships such as this are the foundation of the changes that are needed in our county. I look forward to working with NLEA and their team of professionals in the future.” – Dawn Bodner, Topinabee, 2018

“NEMCOG has an effective partnership with NLEA due to the diversity of personnel and human resources they bring to the table. They have strengths in economic development which are complementary to other community and economic development tools in the region.” – Diane Rekowski, Director Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, 2018





“NLEA works closely with our company as a legislative liaison. There are many times we have reached out to them for their assistance with different efforts supporting our surrounding Great Lakes, HUBZone set aside efforts and lobbying for our community. NLEA worked with our local MIWorks offices to assist in providing training, grants, and different funding opportunities that our company alone has benefited tremendously from. They have reviewed and done extensive reserch for us in regards to growing our business and provided several avenues available to us that we were unaware of.” – Zachary Morrish President Ryba Marine Construction Co. 2018




“Without NLEA we would not have known about the opportunities that existed within the State. There were many phone calls and onsite visits from NLEA staff to assist the Credit Union in procuring state and local Brownfield tax incentives. A trip was also made to Lansing to speak before a committee as to why our project should be approved by MEDC. NLEA helped us achieve our goal of building a more efficient headquarters for our members as well as SAFCU staff and most important, remaining within the city limits.” – Cindy Harrison President/CEO Straits Area Federal Credit Union, 2018

“NLEA provides assistance to numerous business start-ups and business expansions. We specifically utilized NLEA when we opened up our business and they assisted us in developing our business plan and helped us explore other programs related to our field. This was our first go-around as business owners and the assistance/guidance NLEA provided, helped us become the business we are today with over 700 members.” – Opal and Darren Selden Main St. Fitness Inc. 2018





“I attended seminars through NLEA, notably the DDA Forums held a few times a year and they provided speakers from MEDC which are always educational. Last year NLEA assisted me in writing and submitting a grant application to NEMCOG which resulted in a $5,000 mini grant that was used to construct a new sign at the entrance to our Commerce Park. Also, two DDA members are planning to meet with a NLEA rep to discuss a Strategic Plan. I have found them very helpful.” – Mike Ridley, Tuscarora Township Supervisor, 2018

“Currently, I serve on the NLEA Board of Directors (since 2012) and sit on the Finance Committee. I’ve experienced first-hand what a well-run, proactive organization the NLEA is and I assure you, they are as committed to serving Cheboygan County as they are with the other NLEA member counties.” – Jim Granger, NLEA Board member, 2018 

“As one of only a few community banks headquartered in Michigan, I realize the success of the bank relies on the success of the communities it serves and the success of the communities relies on the success of its businesses to provide economic stability. I believe the contributions of the NLEA in the areas of business assistances ande community development are essential components of both sustaining existing and attracting new businesses to the area. Additionally, its regional approach allows us the share with others what Cheboygan has to offer and to learn from what is working in other communities across northern Michigan.” – Sue Eno, former President of Citizens National Bank & past NLEA Board member, 2018

“I was faced with an immediate, complicated business challenge that would have negatively impacted several of my hospitality businesses and reached out to seek help. I was referred to the NLEA for assistance and received help from their team of professionals that provided the resources and connections for broadband connectivity assistance. I am very grateful and happy for the professional help from the NLEA that solved my problem.” – Joe Lieghio, President Lieghio Enterprises, 2018




“NLEA has been a long time partner (2007) with Cheboygan County and the City of Cheboygan and as partners we have focused on growth and prosperity for the City of Cheboygan. Financially the City of Cheboygan contributes $3,500 annually to NLEA and the return on investment is exponential for the City. I do not believe the projects listed below would have occurred without the partnership with NLEA: Vibrant Small Cities Initiative Grant-$667,000, Urban Revitalization 3.0-$47,250, MEDC CDBG – $439,440, Invest Cheboygan/NLEA Grand Event-$20,000 invested in local businesses, MEDC Facade Improvement Grant/CDBG-$276,815, Redevelopment Ready Communities-designed to promote effective redevelopment strategies through a set of best practices.” – Tom Eustice, City Manager, City of Cheboygan, 2018





“I would like to take this opportunity to express my satisfaction with the NLEA and the many services that are provided. Mackinaw City has been a member of this organization for many years and we hope to continue this. The NLEA has proven to be a great resource to the Village in providing information to us as well as potential business prospects wishing to move to the area.

Recently, Mackinaw City’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) has had a resurgence of interest from its members in finding ways to promote the area and revitalize the economic growth here. This increased enthusiasm has, for the most part, been due to the involvement of the NLEA and the resources brought to the EDC by two (2) of your respresentatives. It has been a pleasure in watching the transformation of the EDC over the last several months.” – Patrick Wyman, Village Manager, Village of Mackinaw City, 2018





“I would like to commend the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for all they do to help businesses and communities in northern Michigan thrive! I wish that I had an NLEA to work with in all my northern Michigan communities! As the Michigan Economic Development Council’s (MEDC) Business Development Manager, covering 21 northern Michigan counties, I hold the NLEA up as the example of how to do economic development in rural areas.

The NLEA, working as a region, is able to offer a robust menu of services and programs through:

Staff specialization – NLEA can develop and maintain staff expertise that is not possible in a single county EDC. They specialize in community development, business development, grant writing, event organization. Rural single county EDOs generally can only afford one staff member who must try to do everything.

Funding – Funding is usually the single most difficult challenge for an economic development organization. By working with other counties, a county leverages their funds and reduces the burden and time needed to raise funds. This allows more staff time to do economic development.

Marketing – By participating regionally, the county can also increase their ability to promote and market the county through shared costs.

Collaboration – For me, at the MEDC, it is reassuring that when I have a project in one of the four NLEA counties, I know exactly who to call on, and am confident that I am dealing with a professional who will be able to assist in our efforts. Many times in smaller EDOs, staff revolve and never get to that professional level.

NLEA has developed a great way to leverage all the assets of the region and has a long history of helping to grow investment and jobs in the region.” – Lydia Murray, Retired, former Business Development Manager, MEDC, 2018






“As executive director of the Mackinaw City Chamber I represent business owners in Mackinaw City. Thanks to efforts of the NLEA I now travel to Cheboygan for a monthly meeting with their E-team to work on a county-wide event hosted by the NLEA: Invest Cheboygan Pitch Night. It’s exciting to share a project in that way. After each meeting it is such a reassurance to know that there is an industrious team actually going to do the work to bring ideas from that meeting into fruition. Often, when different entities unite, good ideas fall by the wayside because no one is able to put in the labor on top of their overwhelming workload-group projects are a challenge. The NLEA is bringing ideas to life.” – Jamie Mersch, Executive Director, Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce, 2018





“Over the past 10 years, the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce has been pleased to have NLEA serve as an economic development partner in business retention, new business development and be instrumental in many projects throughout our area. For example, projects such as the Pedestrian Footbridge, demolition of the Woolworth Building, construction of Festival Square, suggestions of way-finding signage, the streetscape project and, most recently, the Invest Cheboygan Entrepreneurial Pitch Night could not have happened without your involvement and support.

The Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce believes that strong partnerships are key to the quality development of a community and we welcome all organizations that specifically support economic development in the Cheboygan Area and enhance our Members’ ability to grow and thrive in their businesses and organizations. We believe that NLEA has been, and will continue to be, a quality partner in that endeavor.” – Scott Herceg, Executive Director, Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce & Dede Anderson, 2018 Chamber Board President, 2018




“Our thanks to the NLEA for helping walk the Village of Elk Rapids through the CDBG grant process, and for administering the grant.  This is just one example of the many ways in which the Village of Elk Rapids and the NLEA have formed a great working relationship.  A relationship that we hope will continue for years to come.” – William “Bill” Cooper, Village Manager, Village of Elk Rapids, 2018


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