“Visitors can get you only so far,” Upper Michigan Hungry For More Mining

Mining opponents throughout the country cite tourism and recreation industries as “sustainable” alternatives to mining, including in Minnesota. However, what these arguments miss is that people who live in areas that are dependent upon tourism are hungry for opportunities in other industries because the tourism industry simply does not provide the kind of high-wage jobs that people in the area need to raise and support a family.

Take the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for example. Like the Iron Range, the region has a rich mining history and many residents in the area are eager for the economic lifeline mining would provide because tourism simply cannot carry the region to economic prosperity. According to the Detroit News:

“The eastern U.P., which has the Soo Locks and Tahquamenon Falls, has long depended on tourism to feed its economy, merchants said. But visitors can get you only so far.

U.S. Highway 2, which runs along Lake Michigan, is littered with the detritus of failed businesses — vacant restaurants, motels and gas stations. Some small communities have turned into ghost towns.

Naubinway is still alive but its pulse will weaken a bit with the imminent closing of Vallier’s General Store on U.S. 2, residents said. A real estate sign in front of the store reads: “Price Reduced.”

The lack of good-paying jobs has led to an exodus of young people from the region who move elsewhere in search of better economic opportunities.

“Older residents are dying and younger ones moving away. They leave for college or a better job, and never come back.”

“The basic thing is: There’s no reason for young people to stay here,” said Carl Frazier, 77, a commercial fisherman from Naubinway.”

Storefronts continue to close as the “sustainable” tourism industry remains one of the main economic sectors. There is no denying that mining and logging were the economic baseline of Upper Michigan’s economy, and the region is suffering without them.

This post may make me seem anti-tourism, but acknowledging that there are limitations of a leisure economy does not make someone “anti-tourism,” it makes them a realist.

I grew up in the small town of Waupaca, Wisconsin, a town that is dependent upon manufacturing and tourism. Tourism is important, but more important is the underlying baseline vigor of the manufacturing economy that provides the necessary income for the town’s restaurants and ice cream shops to hang on during the lean winter months before the return of tourists during the summer.

After all, tourists won’t have any place to spend their money if shops, like the Vallier’s general store in Naubinway, Michigan, close down because they can’t afford to keep the lights on.