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

We hope you will join us on Friday, May 17th at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls for the 2024 Northern Lakes Economic Symposium and Showcase. This year’s Symposium will focus on innovation—or the act of introducing new products, methods, and ways of thinking—to build on Northern Michigan’s economic success. 

Our region boasts a rich history of innovation. We’ve witnessed it across communities and across industries, from agriculture, to manufacturing, healthcare, outdoor recreation, and tourism. Join 300+ Northern Lower Michigan business and community leaders and state and federal officials to answer the question: how can our businesses and communities continue to foster innovation for our region’s success now and into the future?


BECOME A SPONSOR. Contact Sam Bailey at to secure your sponsorship.

Morning Program

8:00 – Registration and Networking

9:00 – Morning Program and Featured Speakers

Brian Britton – President and Chief Executive Officer, Kilwins Chocolates Franchise
Jake Manthei – President, Aster Brands

Networking Break

10:30 – Morning Breakout Sessions

Innovation in the Outdoor Recreation Industry – According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry generated $12.4 billion in GDP, 118,993 jobs, and $5.6 billion in compensation in 2022. This industry represents more than just tourism; it’s businesses researching, designing, and refining the next generation of outdoor products and technology. This session will provide an overview of the industry in Michigan before delving into regional strengths and opportunities. You’ll have the chance to hear directly from the businesses in our area advancing the outdoor recreation industry.

Brad Garmon – Executive Director, Michigan Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Jason Thelen – Founder, Little Bay Boards
Jeff Thompson – Co-Founder/Product Engineer, Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis
Rob Bellmore – Vice President, Advance Tackle Inc., a partner of Gibbs Fishing

Innovations in Housing Construction – Housing continues to be a challenge in Northern Lower Michigan, impacting the staffing of our businesses, schools, and governments. It is well documented that the region needs more housing units, but how can the region build more units faster and cheaper? This session will explore financial and technical innovations to support housing development. Sponsored by DTE Energy. 

Tony Lentych – Chief Housing Investment Officer, Michigan State Housing Development Authority
Isaac Oswalt – Principal, 1983 Company
Andrew Schorfhaar – Vice President, Haan Development
Moderator: Yarrow Brown – Executive Director, Housing North

Innovation in Land-Based Industries – Businesses connected to natural resources are a core part of Northern Michigan’s history, from farms to forests to waterways. These businesses have championed innovation by introducing new agricultural products, production strategies, and business models. This session will highlight current innovations in the industry, technical and financial supports to continue innovating, and feature businesses from our region that are leading the way.

Mandy Thompson – Boss Dairy/Charlevoix Cheese Co.
David Coveyou – Coveyou Scenic Farm Market
Mollie Woods – Director, Michigan State University Product Center
Moderator: Juliette King-McAvoy – Vice President of Sales & Marketing, King Orchards and NLEA Board Member

Tools for a Tight Labor Market – Current state and local demographic trends indicate that attracting the right talent to meet the needs of your organization will remain a challenge in the coming years. What can your organization do to get ahead of this challenge? In this session, state officials will highlight resources for attracting talent while one local business shares how they are successfully addressing talent needs. Sponsored by Rehmann. 

Amanda Haworth – Director of Human Resource, Manthei Group
Avazeh Attari – Director of Higher Education Partnerships, Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Michele Andrews – Dean of Business, Education, & Adjunct Faculty, North Central Michigan College
Moderator: Taylar Sides – Administrative Services Supervisor, Great Lakes Energy

Lunch Program

11:35 – Lunch

12:05 – Awards

Afternoon Program

12:50 – Afternoon Breakout Session

Innovation in the Craft Beverage Industry – Economic data reveals that Northern Michigan’s flourishing craft beverage industry is outpacing national growth. From local farms, distributors, graphic designers, and other hospitality businesses, the economic impact is felt beyond the tasting room. How are businesses in this sector innovating to deliver the next award-winning beverage, exciting tasting experience, or community event? This breakout session will tackle these topics and more.

Matt McCann – Owner, Detroit Stillworks and Muskrat Distilling
Michael Kazanowski – Co-Founder and CEO, High Five Spirits
More speakers to be announced
Moderator: George Ranville – President, Biere De Mac Brew Works and NLEA Board Member

Roadmap to Rural Prosperity – In January, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP) released the Michigan Roadmap to Rural Prosperity, a first-ever report that focuses on the challenges rural communities face and strategies to collectively build long-term prosperity in rural areas across the state. In this session, ORP staff will dive into the Roadmap, opportunities in the state’s proposed budget, and how the ORP aims to support transformative projects and strategies in our region. Sponsored by Peninsula Fiber Network.

Sarah Lucas – Director, Michigan Office of Rural Prosperity

Strategies to Tackle New Recycling Regulations – New state regulations are pushing local governments to take their recycling operations to the next level. While counties are responsible for the recycling targets, every community member plays a role in the efficiency of their local recycling system. This session will explore the strategies stakeholders are using to reach new targets and how all community members and businesses can support success.

Andi Tolzdorf – Director, Emmet County Recycling
Tracy Purrenhage – Recycling Specialist, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
More speakers to be announced

New Resources to Support Small Businesses – MEDC’s new Small Business Support Hubs (SBSH) program will help strengthen and grow Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through investments into business support services and direct grants to eligible small businesses. Join this session to hear from Northern Michigan’s SBSH partners and learn about new and expanded resources to support small business creation, innovation, and growth.

David Kronberg – Director of the Regional Small Business Support Hub, 20Fathoms
Laura Galbraith – Executive Director, Venture North
Chris Bauer – Economic and Community Development Manager, Northern Lakes Economic Alliance

2:00 – Fostering a Culture of Innovation in Northern Michigan Panel

Brad Garmon – Executive Director, Michigan Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Dr. Britany Affolter-Caine – Director, University Research Corridor
More speakers to be announced
Moderator: Amy Rencher – Senior Vice President of Small Business Services & Solutions, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

3:00 – Program Concludes


Thank you to our sponsors!


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