Sure, it’s nestled on one of the Great Lakes in the crook of Michigan’s Thumb, but there is much more than Lake Huron that makes the Great Lakes Bay Region great.
From the arts and architecture, to the business opportunities and industrial ingenuity, the area has no shortage of reasons to celebrate. However, Holly Miller said the true spirit of the region comes down to the residents who live there. As executive director of the United Way of Midland County, Miller said she bears witness to the kindness and generosity of the region on a daily basis.
“When there’s a crisis, we rise above. When there’s a need, we fill the gaps. When there’s exciting news, we celebrate,” she said. “This region has a mentality of togetherness, and it’s that mentality that drives us forward.”
Perhaps that mentality has never been more driven than during the recent flooding that devastated large swaths of Midland County. In her role at the United Way, Miller saw firsthand the outpouring of community support in a desperate moment of need.
“Time and time again, this region steps up to help each other. We don’t wait. We solve,” she said. “There’s a certain level of pride, grit and gumption that create this culture. It is unique, and it is woven into the fabric of our people. We come together because we recognize that we are in this together. At the end of the day, we are people helping people; and that message radiates throughout the region.”
As president and CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, Matthew Felan also understands that the community is much more than armchair activists. Their generosity of financial means and personal time is where the rubber meets the road, he said.
“If you just consider the recent flood in Midland County, people from the Great Lakes Bay Region immediately stepped up to provide necessary funding, supplies and volunteer hours to help their neighbors recover from the devastation,” Felan said. “Our community is just the right size that people truly know each other and have a deep connection to their local community and the Great Lakes Bay Region. People know that Midland is only as strong as Bay City, and Mount Pleasant is only as strong as Saginaw. The counties depend on one another, and they thrive when we all do well.”
Beyond its residents, the region is also home to a higher-education hub that boasts between 50,000 to 60,000 students, from Central Michigan and Saginaw Valley State universities to Delta College and Davenport University, Felan said. That education pipeline feeds into the area’s dedicated workforce and entrepreneurial incubator.
“Small-business startup costs are very approachable here,” said Jennifer Acosta, CEO of Jennifer Acosta Development. “Not only are we an affordable place to live, but we’re an affordable place to launch a dream. That combination helps incubate local economic growth while local leaders from our large corporations also offer guidance on helping small businesses scale beyond our community.”
The secret to the success of the region is a widespread determination to contribute and add value to the community, Miller said.
“Our community is built on the backs of doers, go-getters and hand-raisers,” Miller said. “Behind every event, organization, sports team, school and business are people with passion and care for one another. People who have the willingness to say, ‘I want to add this to my community. I want to achieve this. I want to contribute this. I want to use my gifts to share this with my neighbors.’”
An Abundance of Arts and Culture
For a community of just over 500,000 people, the Great Lakes Bay Region has a wealth of world-class arts and cultural experiences to enhance the lives of residents, according to Matthew Felan, president and CEO of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance.
“The Great Lakes Bay Region decided to make major investments in the arts, and our community has proven to be a destination for both its quality and quantity of art and entertainment,” he said.
From Broadway shows and symphonies, to local history and children’s programs, art thrives because its value is appreciated and those who bring it to life are respected, said Jennifer Acosta, board member of the Midland Center for the Arts.
“Our community is beyond locally engaged — it also travels globally often and appreciates art and culture afar,” she said. “That helps increase the appreciation and admiration of our art scene at home as well.”