CALUMET, MI – When someone mentions the Upper Peninsula’s wildly beautiful Keweenaw area, your mind might immediately go to the sweeping views from Mount Bohemia or Brockway Mountain.
If you’ve ever been on its local trails, you might think of the miles you can pedal on a mountain bike or glide through a forest on cross-country skis without ever seeing another person.
But have you ever considered the Keweenaw as … your new office away from home?
There’s a movement afoot to promote Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula as an ideal place to work remotely. For some people, that might be a week spent balancing online work and video conference calls with daily doses of outdoor adventure. For others, it could be a month in a rental cottage where work weeks flow into vacation time.
Remote work options are being touted not only as a way to show off the Keweenaw’s beauty, but to drive economic development – and possibly an uptick in the population, if people find they love it enough to consider moving here.
“We really think that there’s an opportunity to explore the area now with remote working being embraced across the county. If you can work from anywhere, why not opt to do it where you want to be,” said Brad Barnett, executive director of the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau in Calumet.
He said when first-timers visit Michigan’s northernmost peninsula, they might expect the wilderness feel of being surrounded by Lake Superior’s rugged expanse. But it’s the amenities that surprise them. Home to colleges and spin-off science and tech businesses, the area has good broadband service. The campus towns of Hancock and Houghton also have co-working spaces set up to be your drop-in home office for the day, or longer.
“You get sort of the best of both worlds,” Barnett said. “With hundreds of miles of recreation trails for ATVs, snowmobiles and mountain bikers, you can ride for days and never be on the same trail twice.”
Like a lot of places with out-of-the-way ZIP codes, the U.P. historically has struggled with attracting new residents long-term, he said. Young people grow up and move away, but the influx is a smaller stream.
Barnett believes the recent surge in remote work options – many created for safety reasons by the coronavirus pandemic – could spell a strategic opportunity for the tip of the U.P. For a lot of people with online jobs, their horizons have opened wider in the past several months. Those yearning for a more active, outdoor lifestyle – whether that’s hunting, fishing, biking or skiing – could find the Keweenaw offers big opportunities to find a better work-life balance, right outside the door of their vacation rental.
“Maybe you leave with a great impression – this may be a great opportunity to find the next place you want to live. By the end of the day, what brings people to the Keweenaw is the great outdoors. You have to have that balance for work and play to be your best self.”
For details on the Keweenaw’s co-working spaces and tips for making the most of your “workcation,” check the tourism website’s remote work page.
THINK YOU MIGHT WANT TO MOVE TO THE KEWEENAW?
If you’ve already dipped your toes into the area known fondly as the Copper Country – and may want to get serious about moving up here – there is a network of people ready to help you make that leap. But they also want you to take a hard look, first. And understand about the snow. It’s kind of a big deal.
“If you bring people up here in the summer, it’s absolutely glorious. But if you are going to be a year-round resident, you’ve got to understand what the whole picture is. You’ve got to be realistic about what winter is about up here,” said Keith Meyers, who may be the area’s biggest transplant cheerleader with his Remote Workforce Keweenaw initiative.
“The world is a bell curve and a slice of it are people who embrace winter and the lifestyle associated with it. We cross-country ski all winter; I get to the point where I hate to see winter go. I think for people who embrace it, it’s amazing.”
He asks people who are considering making the move to work remotely in the Keweenaw, or start a new business here, to honestly answer what he calls the five pillars:
- Do you embrace winter?
- Are you looking for more affordable housing?
- Do you value ubiquitous natural beauty?
- Do you desire a place with no congestion?
- Are you seeking an environment with lower crime?
This past winter, the Keweenaw County Road Commission recorded 280.1 inches of snow, and in 2019 tallied 317 inches. Many years, that number is higher. For months, the snow drifts, it can dump in lake-effect storms, and it can filter softly through branches in the woods like a snow globe. As ubiquitous as jet skis are in West Michigan’s beach towns each summer, snowmobiles are a way of winter life in many Keweenaw Peninsula towns.
For some people with the ability to move jobs or work remotely, this area of the U.P. can spell a fresh start with a side of adventure.
“People are looking to get out of congested metro areas,” said Meyers, who for years had a career in economic and workforce development in Kansas. “When you live in the U.P., you are socially distancing by definition. The Western U.P. is so intense in its natural beauty that people who have lived here all their lives don’t realize that this doesn’t exist in other places.”
A transplant himself, Meyers’ family roots are in the peninsula. His parents are both from here, and his love for the area was cemented by summers spent on Portage Lake at his grandmother’s house. When summer ended, his grandmother would put him on a bus back to Chicago. But he remained tethered to the U.P. as an adult, and when he retired, he says it was an easy decision to move to the Keweenaw.
Now he helps others looking to make that jump. His tries to make sure his Remote Workforce Keweenaw website and social media pages are a realistic window into what life is really like in this finger of land that curves into Lake Superior.
Recent transplants helped along by this effort include a database administrator for a company in Dallas, and others who have moved here from Austin, Chicago and Connecticut.
“Lots of people who work remotely are in technology up here,” Meyers said. “Those kinds of salaries support local jobs in construction, retail and the service industry. There is a really good opportunity to diversify our economy by recruiting workers from a wide range of industries.”
“For someone who really wants to figure out if it’s for them, take the area on a test drive,” he suggested. “Once you get a taste of it, there’s no going back. It’s truly the most amazing place you’ve never heard of.”
For little “daily adventures” in the Keweenaw, follow Meyers’ Instagram at @decompressu, his Twitter feed at @UPTreefarmer, or check out his YouTube channel and his spot on Pinterest at RemoteWorkforceKeweenaw.