MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Sarah Lucas was named Deputy Director for the newly created Office of Rural Development on April 18th. On Tuesday, Lucas was at the Northern Center on NMU’s campus to meet with U.P. stakeholders and economic development and community leaders to share their vision regarding the the office.

In January, Governor Gretchen Whitmer established the Office of Rural Development within the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) via Executive Directive 2022-01 to focus on the strategic needs of rural Michigan, including economic and workforce development, infrastructure, public health, and environmental sustainability.

Sarah Lucas previously served as CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership.

“I’ve learned a lot from my time working with communities and organizations like the Lake Superior Community Partnership.” said Lucas. “Just building those relationships with partners here and I’m really grateful for everything I’ve learned from those partners. There’s just there’s so much knowledge and passion among the U.P. network here for addressing the challenges that we face and the opportunities that are in front of us. So that has really, I think, been critical to me in terms of how, we’ve been through the organization and the priorities of this office, just knowing what these these partners are doing on the ground locally, and what solutions they’ve identified.”

Lucas said the idea for the office was to make sure there are opportunities for participation from different stakeholders.

“We want to make sure that there’s good communication back and forth. So that we’re hearing feedback and input from stakeholders about vision for the office and priorities for the office. But really, just to kind of have an open conversation with stakeholders throughout the up around the new office and what the opportunities are,” said Lucas.

Lucas said she is impressed by the thoughtfulness and passion from the stakeholders. She said there is an opportunity to address issues like workforce shortages, housing, and connectivity, and childcare.

“One of the things that I love most about my my job and my profession and have always loved is getting to know communities and what their priorities are and what they’re working on and what their opportunities are. Getting to know the people who are living and working at the local level. I really appreciated the time that I’ve spent with communities so far and just understanding the commonality that rural areas have across the state whether you’re in the U.P. or whether you’re in Southern Michigan, you’re really contending with a lot of the same issues if you’re in a rural area. And I think that’s something that we’ve we’ve kind of known intellectually is that rural areas really experienced a lot of the same challenges. But it’s really been brought home to me in kind of a new light that you can have the same conversation at either end of Michigan about you know, what they’re working on and what they’re dealing with. The other thing I guess, I would say is almost on the other end of the spectrum is just the unique assets that different parts of the state really bring to these challenges. While we have a lot of the same common challenges, the partners and assets in different places are very unique. So while the U.P. has this incredible outdoor recreation, infrastructure and it has the University and the mine and other natural resources, the hospital, other parts of the state have have different kinds of resources that they can bring to take on some of these challenges. So they might have larger philanthropies or big healthcare systems, bigger, corporate partners, but they’re all related looking at ways that they can be creative and leverage those partners and assets to address these challenges collaboratively.

Learn more about the Office of Rural Development here.