TC Economic Club nets full membership

TRAVERSE CITY – Begin with a good lunch in a nice atmosphere with old friends and new acquaintances. Add in a great guest speaker, and you've got the monthly meeting of the Economic Club of Traverse City.

While the exact story of how and when the club began is tricky to pin down, it involved a small group of businessmen talking about a way for local business folks to have access to successful people outside of their professional circles.

"The goal was to have a forum in which members of the club could be exposed to other people from government, business, university…to expand upon their economic experience," said Edward Walker, not a founding member of the club, but someone who joined early on.

This was back in the early 1980s. Slowly, people began to join and for a few years it was only men. Then, Judith Lindenau, the current secretary of the club, was invited to become a member along with Deborah Knudsen, former president of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

They were the first women to be asked to join, according to Lindenau.

That was 20 years ago. There are many women in the club today and the club itself has grown into a membership some 350 strong, and that's where it is currently capped. For the last few years, in fact, the club has been at or very near its capacity and even has had a short waiting list at times, according to Rhonda Elliott, who handles the club's records.

Joel Myler, current club president, joined the club back in 1993 on the recommendation of friends who said it was a great opportunity for fellowship, to discuss economic issues, and hear relevant speakers.

"It brings together different backgrounds and different age groups," said Myler, who works for Muskegon Development Company. "People form really good friendships."

The guest speakers discuss relevant and topical issues of local, statewide, national and international importance including immigration, alternative energy, healthcare, and Great Lakes water diversion. Coming next month is Mike Munley, an economist with Chicago Reserve Bank, who will explain why the economies of other Midwest states are recovering more quickly than that of Michigan.

Susan Cogswell has been a member since 1995 and served as club president from 2001 to 2004. She described the guest speakers as "the hook" for the club's membership, as there is always an opportunity to learn something new.

In addition to the monthly speakers, the club supports the business program at Northwestern Michigan College and sponsors a high school essay contest for juniors and seniors in the five-county area. Every year a topic with an economic connection is chosen and entrants must write a 1,000-word essay.

"It gets them to think in different terms, how certain economic conditions affect the community and the state," said Carroll Baldwin, the club's essay chairwoman.

Future members of the Economic Club of Traverse City? Perhaps.