Explore 131 North Collaborative Shares Success Stories at 2024 Entrepreneurship Conference

by Jun 3, 2024

Insights from CEC 2024 in Cadillac

On May 30 & 31, Downtown Cadillac hosted the annual Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities (CEC) conference, organized by Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, in partnership with a local planning team of key community organizations. This event brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, from economic developers and business leaders to educators and non-profits, all united by a common goal: to foster entrepreneurship and inspire new ideas to bring back to their communities.

Hwy 131 Corridor Improvements: A Multi-County Collaborative Initiative

Explore 131 North had the privilege of leading it’s own breakout session during the conference. The session focused on the strides made in promoting entrepreneurial ventures and tourism along the US-131 corridor in Northern Michigan. Sharing successes and challenges, members from the collaborative highlighted the strategies implemented to support small businesses along the 131 North corridor.

Members of the discussion panel included four officials from the villages of Kalkaska and Mancelona: Cash Cook, Gayenell Gentelia, Mike Allison and Maureen Naumcheff. They led an engaging discussion that prompted several questions from the audience. The importance of community engagement was emphasized as well as sharing resources and knowledge between member communities. By involving local stakeholders and telling their stories, the corridor has created a supportive environment for entrepreneurs and is becoming a model for regional collaboration within the state.

“We may have initially agreed to work together on tourism only, but this quickly morphed into working together in all aspects of our communities, such as economic development, housing, grant writing and roads. The collaboration and partnership we have with our neighboring communities has truly been invaluable and well worth the time, cost and effort to be a part of Explore 131 North,” says Gayenell Gentelia, Associate Director of the Kalkaska DDA.

“Participating in the CEC was a great experience. We were excited to share our Explore 131 North story and the success we see in it. Sharing the cooperation with the participating communities always reinforces why we are a part of this.  Also we are passionate about our next journey, the addition of Economic Development, not just tourism,” added Mancelona Village Clerk, Maureen Naumcheff.


Conference Highlights

The conference itself was a vibrant mix of learning and networking opportunities. With sessions spread across various local businesses in downtown Cadillac, like Mi Mezcal and the Cadillac 4 Movie Theater, participants had the chance to experience the town’s entrepreneurial spirit firsthand.

The opening keynote by local manufacturing leaders, Lee Richards and Christophe Lavigne set the tone for the event, discussing why Cadillac is an ideal location for fostering entrepreneurship. Throughout the two days, attendees explored topics ranging from tech entrepreneurship in Northwest Michigan to farmer’s markets, all aimed at equipping them with new ideas and best practices to take back to their communities.

Fostering Collaboration for Regional Growth

This unique conference and its diverse range of breakout sessions offered a platform for showcasing efforts, sharing innovative strategies, and forming valuable connections. Special thanks to Michigan State University Extension for organizing such a dynamic and impactful event, and to the community of Cadillac for their warm hospitality.

Takeaways from the conference are set to drive entrepreneurial success in communities throughout Michigan. The event will be hosted again in May of 2025, in the community of Lapeer.

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