How much can a place change in 10 years? From the start of the Gamechangers series – which The ticker ends today, with this episode on the 2010s – this question has been a driving force. And while the years between 2010 and 2019 may all seem like yesterday, they also brought big changes to Traverse City that profoundly impacted the culture and commerce of the place. So, one last time, join us as we journey to a different version of Traverse City and explore the events leading up to today.
2012: A new chapter for the Traverse City shopping scene
The drive to diversify Grand Traverse’s economy beyond its long-standing core business – namely agriculture, tourism and manufacturing – dates back decades. However, coming out of the Great Recession in the early 2010s, a new conversation about economic development and growth began to take hold, centered on entrepreneurship, technology and innovation. The following years saw most of Northern Michigan’s major economic development organizations grow and take off, one after another.
2012, for example, saw the formation of Northern Michigan Angels, “a group of investors who focus on scalable entrepreneurial ventures whose potential success will impact Michigan’s economy and quality of life.” Then, in 2015, local entrepreneur Russell Schindler — CEO of environmental sampling company SampleServe — founded TCNewTech, a series of startup launch events often compared to TV shows. shark tank. That same year saw the launch of Traverse Connect, a regional economic development organization aimed at growing and diversifying the economy of northwest Michigan.
In 2016, local businessman Casey Cowell got involved. Concerned that Traverse City was becoming increasingly dependent on festivals, Cowell felt a call to push for a more balanced economy. “My first question was, ‘Where is the high-value business community on this? Are they here, and if so, why aren’t they committed to the direction our community is taking? The ticker. Cowell’s involvement led to the creation of two new economic development entities in 2016: his own Boomerang Catapult, a venture capital firm that invests in local startups; and Front Street Irregulars, an informal cadre of local Traverse City professionals who have been involved in everything from pushing high-speed fiber internet in northern Michigan to creating a local technology incubator.
Speaking of this tech incubator, in 2017 Schindler and TCNewTech launched an initiative to find a space in Traverse City where tech-focused startups could rent office space, attend seminars, and more. Working with Cowell and others, Schindler eventually found a home for the incubator at 101 North Park. Originally called Startology, the incubator was eventually renamed 20Fathoms, which continues to operate today, but not in its original downtown space.
Fast forward to 2022 and Traverse City is an increasingly important destination for young professionals, tech entrepreneurs, startups and businesses looking to relocate. The organizations mentioned above have all played a role in this evolution, and they have all had great victories along the way.
For example, when Northern Michigan Angels celebrated its 10th anniversary in March, the organization announced that its members had invested more than $7.4 million in small businesses in the first decade. Boomerang Catapult put Northern Michigan on the aerospace map by bringing ATLAS Space Operations to Traverse City, and supported other area entities like Taste the Local Difference and Promethient. Growing local success stories like HybridRobotics and FirstIgnite introduced themselves to the community on the TCNewTech stage. 20Fathoms has helped incubate successful innovators in sectors such as healthcare (HealthBridge Financial) and renewable energy (Birch Infrastructure). And Traverse Connect, which officially merged with the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce on January 1, 2020, is behind key talent attraction initiatives such as Michigan’s Creative Coast and Northern Navigators, among many many other services and functions.
Incidentally, today (May 15) marks the last day of Northern Michigan Startup Week 2022, an entrepreneurship-centric event that counts all of the aforementioned organizations as organizers, sponsors, or community partners.
2014: Up North Pride debuts
Talk to The ticker in August 2020, Chasten Buttigieg – a Traverse City native and the husband of former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg – said Traverse City had “pushed the needle very far very fast” in terms of visibility, LGBTQ+ acceptance, advocacy and inclusion. When Buttigieg was in high school (he graduated from West Senior High in 2007), he said he didn’t feel safe being open about who he was. “For me, it was a no-brainer: you don’t go out, you don’t talk about it, and if you do, really bad things could happen to you,” he explained.
Arguably, no milestone has “pushed the needle” for the local LGBTQ+ community more than the creation of Up North Pride, the Traverse City Pride celebration that first took place in 2014.
According to the Up North Pride website, the organization and the rally it holds each year “was sparked when a directly identified mother of four asked why there was no Pride festival in Traverse City. and how important she felt it was to raise her children in a community that celebrates diversity. Co-founders Jonny Cameron, Elon Cameron and Marta Turnbull took that prompt and ran with her, hosting the first North Pride “Visibility Walk” in downtown Traverse City.
Before the pandemic, the Up North Pride celebration grew every year. In 2014, approximately 300 people took part in the Visibility Walk. Two years later, the parade was 10 times bigger. In 2019, the crowd at the visibility march numbered 6,000, making the event the largest LGBTQ+ pride march in the entire state of Michigan.
Over the years, Up North Pride has expanded beyond the Visibility March, adding everything from a popular drag night at The Little Fleet, to youth outreach efforts, to LGBTQ+ storytelling events. The organization has also become a key player in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and building community in Northern Michigan, forging partnerships with local businesses and organizations such as Traverse City Tourism, Traverse Area District Library, the Downtown Development Authority, Traverse City Arts Commission, My Secret Stash, Iron Fish Distillery, and more to keep moving the needle.
Talk to Teleprinter sister post Northern Express in 2020, Jonny Cameron commented on how Up North Pride and the local LGBTQ+ community in general “felt the love and support from so many organizations and institutions in this area that we just didn’t have. [in 2014].”
“We’re asking them to take action with us to make sure this place continues to be more inclusive and safe,” Cameron explained. “And the allies who have supported us in this movement have been on a learning journey with us. They asked things like, ‘Okay, you’re trans. What are pronouns? How can I be an ally? How can I help?’ So we regularly educate a wonderful group of allies in this community who bring this work into their workplaces and into their homes.
This year, Up North Pride will be held from September 28 to October 2.
Revisit the rest of the Gamechangers series below!
Part 1: The 1950s
Part 2: The 1960s
Part 3: The 1970s
Part 4: The 1980s
Part 5: The 1990s
Part 6: The 2000s