DICKINSON COUNTY, Mich. (WJMN) – Dickinson County, home to 26,168 of the Upper Peninsula’s residents, saw the lowest percentage of unemployment in Michigan for the month of May.
According to Lois Ellis, Director of Economic Development at the Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance, the unemployment rate wasn’t higher largely because of most businesses in the area being deemed essential.
“Dickinson County’s pretty fortunate even in good times and certainly during this crisis that we have an economy that’s really based on manufacturing and construction,” said Ellis. “That really helps in any economic time but certainly during the pandemic.”
Two businesses in the county say they’ve been as busy as before and have even done some hiring during the pandemic. Lake Shore Systems and CCI systems are essential businesses that have been able to keep the entirety of their staff employed during the pandemic.
Lake Shore Systems employs around 450 employees in the UP and Northern Wisconsin. President and CEO Jessica Frost says they’ve been very busy since March.
“Our customers are mainly US navy ship builders and their demands are not slowing down at all,” said Frost. “If anything they’re asking us to work harder and faster and accelerate our deliveries, so far we’ve been able to accomodate our everything customers need and keep everyone working.”
160 members of their team are working from home and they’ve changed the shifts in their factories to avoid overlap and split people up during breaks. Frost also reported that they have been fogging their factory with disinfectants and providing sanitation stations for their employees.
Lake Shore Systems has even been able to hire some new employees. They’ve changed their onboarding process to be done almost entirely remote.
“We’ve been able to accommodate and bring some people on board that haven’t been to the office yet but they’ve worked for us for a month or so,” said Frost.
CCI Systems in Iron Mountain transitioned all of their 825 employees to remote work the week of March 16th. John Jamar, president and CEO says half of the employees work in Iron Mountain but many were already working from home in other parts of the country.
“We have an active disaster recovery system in place and so we recognized and declared a Disaster, engaged our IT departement and shifted everyone to work from home,” said Jamar
Due to the nature of CCI’s work they have had an increase in business since March. CCI designs and builds broadband networks nationally. The increase in work from home has contributed to their work volume. Jamar says they have around 12 job openings posted online currently.
These two companies are just examples of the ways that industry across the UP has adapted for the current situation. As things begin to change going forward the companies both say they plan to adapt as necessary. Ellis gives advice to businesses, saying if you had trouble during the pandemic, now is the time to look at those difficulties and try to plan for the future.
“If there’s been any lesson during this its that you need to be prepared for a crisis,” said Ellis.