IRON RIVER, Mich. (WJMN) – Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II is visiting the Upper Peninsula this week, meeting with multiple groups, workers, and business owners. Among the stops Friday was a visit to Willis Family Maple Farm in Iron River. Gilchrist says the feedback he’s collecting during the trip is beneficial when he returns to work in Lansing.

“I love being able to connect with just people who are energetic and have ideas and are willing to innovate processes and use technology in cool ways,” Gilchrist said. “And so that’s what I’m seeing on this trip to the UP and every time I’ve been to the UP, I continue to be inspired. And so I benefit from this as a policymaker because I get ideas from folks that I then take back to the tables of decision making in Lansing. I want to make sure we can do what we need to do for the people of our state.”

Along with discussions about market competition and increasing public awareness of small businesses like his maple farm, owner Kenneth Willis says he talked with Gilchrist about how the state could support small businesses. Willis says he told Gilchrist support from a state level would be helpful in addition to federal support through organizations like the Farm Service Agency.

“They have rural development grants and things of that nature. There’s different crop grants, specialty crop block grants and stuff like that I’ve seen on MDARD’s website,” Willis said. “Probably just more grant funding opportunities that I would like to see as a small business at the state level.”

In addition to highlighting a $10 million investment in the Office of Rural Development in the new state budget, Gilchrist says discussions with business owners have also focused on the state’s investments in the Pure Michigan Program and the Buy Michigan Program.

“I want to let them know about some of the important investments that Governor Gretchen Whitmer and I really proud to continue to make on behalf of everyone that I think particularly will benefit folks in the Upper Peninsula,” Gilchrist said. “Things like a $30 million investment in the Pure Michigan Program which promotes tourism as well as economic development and activity. And that’s something that’s really important to Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, so we’re proud to promote that investment. The second is the Buy Michigan Program that we’re also promoting here for products just like the maple syrup made here on this farm. We want people to know it’s made in Michigan and that it’s better because it’s made in Michigan.”

You can find the Willis Family Maple Facebook page here.