Gilchrist tours Northeast Michigan | News, Sports, Jobs
ALPENA — Housing, daycare, and the availability of quality high-speed internet remain serious issues in Northeast Michigan, but Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said the State of Michigan is prepared to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at those issues to help to rectify them.
During a tour of Northeast Michigan on Thursday, Gilchrist took questions from constituents and updated them on what state officials in Lansing are doing to solve problems in the remote counties of Northeast Michigan.
At a roundtable meeting in Hillman, Gilchrist talked about the need to make fiber and quality internet service available to everyone. He said having reliable and speedy service is just as important as other utilities such as water, gas, and electricity.
Gilchrist said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has set high goals to increase connectivity and he is confident – with the buy-in from other private and public partners – the goals can be reached.
Last week, Gilchrist said, Whitmer signed into law the Building Michigan Together plan, which allocates $250 million to invest in fiber infrastructure in underserved areas. He said everyone needs quality internet service to thrive.
“Michigan can be the first big state to connect all of our people online,” Gilchrist said. “This money is a downpayment on that. We set an ambitious goal. We want every single household, 100% of the households in Michigan, to have access and 95% adoption of it.”
Gilchrist said the newly established Michigan High Speed Internet office is also working to come up with programs for those who struggle to pay for internet service and to keep prices as low as possible.
“Making sure people can afford it is key to adoption,” he said.
During the roundtable, which was attended by local government, education, business, and health leaders, the topics of housing and childcare also were discussed.
Gilchrist said high-speed internet, quality and affordable housing and easy access for childcare is critical to spurring development and growth in rural areas.
“These are all things we need to address at the same time, and each of those reinforce each other,” Gilchrist said. “We want to invest in all three of those and that is why the budget we signed into law last year, the appropriations we signed last week, and the next budget will address those issues further.”
Gilchrist received details on a proposed project in Lincoln that could lead to the construction of a new community center and 44 housing units for families and seniors.
Lenny Avery, executive director for the Alcona County Commission on Aging, said the project is ready to break ground, but the community and its partners need financial support to help cover the $31 million cost.
Gilchrist said the plan fits those the state wants to support financially and money for development projects is available, but, he said, adding more public and private partners will also help the project become a reality.
“We are going to begin to see this money from things we have been able to accomplish, start to flow into the communities,” Gilchrist said. “I think it will make a difference in a number of the issues. The Build Michigan Together plan includes a $100 million investment toward affordable housing and we believe that will draw another $480 million in private investment. That means more money for new development and rehabilitation.”
Before heading to Iosco County, Gilchrist made a stop at Alcona Community Schools where he visited with staff and students.
He chatted with members of the high school’s robotics team and looked over the robot the students were preparing for competition in Traverse City.
He checked out the Tea and Bean cafe at the school and took a tour of the FFA Sugar Shack, where students produce maple syrup.
Gilchrist said there has been a great amount of investment into education and the school in Lincoln is an example of that money paying dividends.
“I think this is the type of educational environment and experience that we want to see available to students in every community,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist also talked about how impressed he was with the school’s investment and focus on student mental health.
“We got a chance to meet some of the mental behavioral health professionals who are working on campus, to serve the 700 students who attend school here,” he said. “We think this school is a great model and Lord knows the kids need the support after everything we have been through. I think what has been created at the school is really a gem.”
Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwi[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.