Retirees in Northwest Michigan Mean Business

Northwest lower Michigan has been a mecca for retirees for decades. That is no less true today than it has ever been and the region is all the better for it.

The word "retiree" conjures an image of a person already checked out. One might envision someone either driving a camper, meeting his or her buddies for golf or cards five days a week, or sitting in front of a television passing the time. So not true.

Instead of using the term "retiree," the Grand Traverse region should use "reloader." Retirees range from retired lieutenant commanders of the Coast Guard as young as 42 to 60-plus entrepreneurs ready to leave the rat race and try their hand – and their fortune – at being their own bosses.

Our local reloaders show up in the most unexpected places. They have been investing in local start-ups and expansions long before the concept of Angel Funders appeared. The companies in which they invest tend to be trend leaders, as well, pushing the region's growth in industries like technology, value-added agriculture, viticulture, and global business.

Reloaders have also been the key to the region's arts and culture and to many of its non-profits. Read the annual report for the Munson Foundation, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Traverse Symphony Orchestra, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimists, and dozens of other groups and its pages will be chock-full of the names of Mr. and Ms. Reloader. Churches are no different.

A quick look at the business landscape shows that reloaders are either running or are deeply involved in the management and boards of numerous local businesses and organizations. Many more businesses would point to the assistance they received from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). SCORE isn't composed exclusively of people that are retired, but the majority of its counselors have "been there and done that" in business and in life.

I had the privilege to follow a reloader as president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. After 38 years at the helm of the Chamber, and already in his 70s, Hal Van Sumeren retired. He immediately moved on. He reloaded.

Hal became a counselor for SCORE and eventually became president of the organization. He became an officer in another civic organization in which he has long been involved. He has volunteered his time and helped his own children – and now his grandkids – realize their dreams to live and work in Traverse City.

Hal gave me many nuggets of wisdom over the years. One of the best was about reloading. When I asked him how he was able to so easily leave his Chamber world and remain so active in the community, he said, "If you don't have a life before you retire, you won't have one after."

That exemplifies the typical reloader that lives in the Grand Traverse region and is undoubtedly the secret sauce the region employs as an economic and cultural engine for Michigan.

Doug Luciani is president and CEO of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce.