ST. IGNACE, Mich. (WJMN) – Following a release from the Mackinac Economic Alliance (MEA) about the Graymont Foundation providing grant funding to a tribal-owned fishery to expand operations, we spoke with MEA Executive Director, Chris Byrnes about their role and how organizations are supporting each other in Mackinac County.

The MEA is set up as a county organization. It serves all of Mackinac County, including Mackinac Island. Its role is to create job and investment opportunities. Byrnes said one of the biggest challenges the county faces is its seasonality.

“We’re obviously a very popular tourist destination. There’s a lot of great businesses that operate that folks come up to enjoy. The Grand Hotel and Mission Point and ferry boats and so forth. But those jobs tend to last only four or five, maybe six, months out of the year,” said Mackinac Economic Alliance Exeuctive Director, Chris Byrnes. “While we love them, and they’re great. Those families need income all year long. We’re working to try and create more year-round, good paying jobs that can stabilize the economic situation of those families and help have them have a greater opportunity for growth.”

With roughly 11,000 permanent residents in Mackinac County, many of the communities are coastal along Lake Michigan. Commercial fishing is a way of life for many families.

“Commercial fishing is important job in that area. In addition to being a small rural community, where half a dozen fishing operations provide 30 jobs, that’s a big impact in that community. In order for those fishing crews to be successful, they need to have a captain that’s tribal. And as long as the captain of the boat is tribal, they have more favorable fishing rules that they can follow. That’s a key thing is to have a tribal crew on your fishing boat,” added Byrnes.

When fishing season ends on the great lakes, families are looking for ways to keep money coming in.

“Frasier Brothers are looking at establishing a fish processing facility where they would clean and grade and scale the fish, package them, and even freeze them so they can be sold on the marketplace. There’s greater revenue then for the fishing fleet, as well as for the processing facility. So it’s a really great value added service. Moving that fish processing up the supply chain, if you will, and it’s a great opportunity to support local small, small tribally owned businesses or collectively with a processing facility that adds value to their product and gives them a greater opportunity to make again, good living for those families that are supported by industry.”

Graymont is a mining firm which has established a foundation to reinvest back into the community.

“This is the first time the Garymont Foundation has made a grant to a private sector business. Normally their funding nonprofit or government projects. They were very excited to support this because obviously, it’s an important you know, 30 families in the Epouphette area that are supported supported by this industry has a huge impact. And so it was a first for the Graymont Foundation. They were very excited to be able to participate in it and it really happens at a critical time to the fishing industry because the fishing grounds and availability of different types of fish is changing as the quality of the lakes change and and so it’s very volatile, potentially volatile industry. And so this project helps creates some greater opportunity to add value to their product and generate better revenues for the businesses that are involved,” said Byrnes.

The Mackinac Economic Alliance said it is working on creating more opportunities across the county to keep more people employed for more of the year and encourage economic growth and stability in the area.

“We’re in a position where a lot of our business and a lot of our identity is based on the water. And these businesses and organizations and agencies that provide services or do their business based on boats and marine activity and transportation and so forth, is an area we’re focusing a great deal on and we’ve had some great support from the state of Michigan. We’re going to be acquiring a lot of federal funding for infrastructure, new business growth, and so forth. And a lot of it’s based around these marine based industries. And this is just a really good example of of working with the local community, getting support from nonprofit organizations and government to be able to make a successful project happen,” added Byrnes.