User Spotlight Mariah Goos, Associate Planner, Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission Regional economic development organizations across the country are dealing with an unprecedented number of challenges, including inflation, labor shortages, supply chain issues and, of course, the lingering effects of the pandemic. Despite this, many are facing these challenges head-on by adapting, fostering collaboration and building resilience in the communities they serve. We talked with Mariah Goos, associate planner at the Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning and Development Commission, in June 2022 about some of the challenges her region is facing and how she and her organization are working through them to improve the quality of life for its residents. What is the mission of the EUP and what kind of work does your organization do to fulfill that mission? Mariah Goos: Our organization, Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning and Development Commission (EUP Planning), doesn’t have an official mission statement, but I would say we are an organization comprised of solution seekers working to improve the quality of life for our residents through collaborative relationships and innovative recommendations within the three-county region that makes up the Eastern Upper Peninsula (EUP). We achieve this mission by building strong relationships within the region to help us provide just and fair inclusion of all residents and striving to ensure transparency in our work to further strengthen the collaboration within the rural communities. EUP Planning is one of 14 state planning and development regions in Michigan and was established in 1968. It is designed to pool resources for the assistance of local governments in EUP. We are a regional, nonprofit government agency operating under Michigan Public Act 281 of 1945. For readers unfamiliar with the region, provide some context on the Michigan Upper Peninsula. How would you describe the communities and the population you serve? Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) is situated between three Great Lakes and adjoining Wisconsin’s eastern border. The UP is 16,452 square miles with a population of 301,608 based on the 2020 Census. The three counties that make up the EUP (Chippewa, Luce, and Mackinac) are situated at the easternmost tip of the UP just across the border from Canada. The three-county region spans roughly 6,700 square miles. Based on the 2020 Census results, the year-round population of the EUP is 54,485. The region is comprised of small clusters of rural communities spread throughout the three-counties. Each of the counties has a core community (city or village). The top three employment sectors are accommodation and food service, health care, and retail trade. Given this regional context, how would you describe the day-to-day operations of an economic development district (EDD) of your size? What are some more of your EDD’s nonroutine tasks? EUP Planning is dedicated to serving the regional planning needs of the region, but many of the local solutions come from a commitment to community development and putting people and places first. The approach of regional planning is to provide knowledge and guidance to local municipalities regarding EDA and economic development projects in the areas of grant writing, community surveys, land use planning, recreation planning, transportation, and geographic information system (GIS) mapping. My outside approach to regional planning embodies the idea of nonroutine. I’m embracing the methods of a community planner, but I also bring with me a passion for people. The very first project I worked on was interviewing local businesses in the region who had been champions of change with creative pivots to keep their businesses viable during the start of the pandemic. These interviews will be shared with local businesses in the region as a teaching tool and included in our EDA Recovery and Resilience Plan. I’ve continued to foster my relationships with our small businesses to help build a resource base for future entrepreneurs. One project I am particularly fond of is a free webinar focusing on overcoming employee burnout. I partnered with our local behavioral health professionals who provided their expertise. I also tackle the creation of brochures and marketing materials along with the social media for our three scenic driving byways. What is the role of resilience planning at your organization? In light of COVID-19, inflation, economic uncertainty and other crises, how do you plan for the worst, while hoping for the best? The pandemic didn’t create new problems in our region, but it did magnify by 10 times the problems we were already focusing on. Through the research for our EDA Recovery and Resilience Plan, we unearthed the effects, both positive and negative, of the pandemic, which allowed us to drill down to actionable recommendations for the region to implement. Items outlined in the plan include the stewardship of entrepreneurs developing small locally owned businesses, recruitment and training of civic leaders, zoning changes to improve mixed use development in communities, steps toward attainable housing in the region, last-mile broadband connection, and reversing a declining population trend. The goal of these recommendations is to increase the region’s ability to withstand future community and economic shocks. Going forward, these recommendations will be key attributes to building lasting resilience in the region. Our EUP Planning team intends to weave resiliency into the core of our EDA Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). This plan is a blueprint for economic and community growth for the EUP. The CEDS is completely rewritten every five years and is updated annually during the five-year cycle. You can read the latest version of the CEDS at the CEDS Resource Library. Describe the role of data at your organization. What are some of your go-to resources for collecting data about your communities? How can data sites like StatsAmerica make it easier for EDDs to collect, use and present data about the communities they serve? The people in our region are the cornerstone of our mission, or better yet the “why” of what we do. However, our outcomes need to be data-driven and relevant. When data accurately reflects the reality of our region, it can paint a clear picture of the “now.” Once I have the picture, I can write actionable recommendations for our communities to implement. As a planner, “actionable” is critical; I don’t want a valuable tool, such as a Master Plan or CEDS, to sit on a shelf collecting dust. To help create plans communities can use, I look for straightforward data sources offering clear and concise dashboards. Some features I can’t work without are easily searchable data with filters that allow me to mine down to the specific dynamics of our rural region. Tools such as the U.S. Census Bureau site, StatsAmerica, National Economic Resilience Data Explorer and Emsi are just a few, but I’m always on the lookout for new sources. Are there any projects you’re working on at EUP that you’d like to share with our subscribers? I’ve talked about my current projects, but I have a whole list of new projects that I am already planning. I would like to spearhead the development of a high school advisory committee comprised of students throughout the region. It’s my intention to gather insight not always included in community planning. If we’re creating regional plans to help guide the future of community and economic development, we need to be consulting the future residents of the region. I’m also in the early stages of a strategic plan for EUP Regional Planning to help us stay true to our mission.