The Influencers Up North: Who’s making business happen in Emmet, Antrim and Charlevoix
For some, living the relaxed, Up North lifestyle is just not for them. The movers and shakers in northern Michigan are not content with a book on the beach; instead, they’re making things happen in their communities in all kinds of ways. Here are a few influencers who have changed how things are done in Emmet, Charlevoix and Antrim counties.
CEO, Great Lakes Energy Cooperative
The not-for-profit electric cooperative is the largest such entity in the state, and the third-largest electric company in Michigan, behind DTE and Consumers Power. Of about 900 electric co-ops, it’s among the top 20 in the country in the number of members. Its rural character makes it third in the country in terms of miles of line. “We have eight different offices and serve nine districts, with 240 employees,” said Scott, who has been part of the organization for 16 years, moving from controller to CFO and then taking the reins as CEO for the past two-plus years.
The cooperative’s service area covers the west side of the state from Kalamazoo to the Mackinac Bridge and is headquartered in Boyne City, serving members in 26 counties in northern and western Michigan.
Scott serves on the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance Board, which serves Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Cheboygan counties. He is on the board for Michigan Electric Cooperative Association and the board of Great Lakes Energy Connection, now working to deliver fiber internet.
“Over half of our service territory does not have access to high-speed internet,” he said.
He also serves on the church board and finance committee of Petoskey United Methodist Church.
“I’m closing in on retirement,” he said. “I’m going kicking and screaming but I’ll eventually succumb to my wife’s wishes.” The company CFO is as well, but Scott says neither are stepping away before making sure the employees and members are taken care of. “We care deeply about our organization,” Scott said.
Owner, North Perk coffee (Petoskey, East Jordan, Boyne City), Petoskey Roasting (with her husband John)
When McNeil started North Perk her ambition was not simply to run a coffee shop. “The goal was to have more than one and be sustainable and diversified,” she said.
Been there, done that – there are now three North Perks and its sister company Petoskey Roasting Company as well. “When you first open a business, you hope it works,” she said.
Over time, the goals are more long-term, for both the business and the employees. “The focus this year is on creating good jobs,” she said. “It’s important that we can offer the number of hours [year-round].”
McNeil said when she first started the business, she was getting people in their 20s who stayed with the company a year or two. Now she has some employees who are looking long-term, and she’s looking to continue that trend by making those jobs into a career.
McNeil is on the board for the Women’s Resource Center. She serves on the events committee of the Petoskey DDA and works with downtown Petoskey. She is a cofounder of Thrive 45 young professionals group.
“We want to continue to grow with this footprint – three shops plus one [roasting company]. I don’t know what the future will be,” said McNeil, who is also a new mother. “I work a lot and need to get a balance. I used to be in the shop a lot; now I’m managing our managers. My job looks different.”
Kidd & Leavy Real Estate (Petoskey, Walloon Lake, Boyne City)
Since forming his own real estate company with partner Pat Leavy in 2003, the longtime Realtor has expanded operations to three offices, located in Petoskey, Walloon Lake and Boyne City.
“My business partner Pat Leavy and I were at Bay Harbor,” Kidd said. “We wanted more control over our personal time and to see more of our kids, and decided it was time to venture out on our own.”
After filling out the ranks with 16 agents and staff, Kidd & Leavy is now first in the region for sales of luxury properties. “We’re not a franchise,” he said. “We’ve developed our own systems.”
When the partners started, they each had young children, which “allowed us to get involved in the community,” said Kidd.
He has been involved in the Petoskey High School Marching Band and served on the St. Francis Xavier School Board, including a stint as president. In addition to sitting on the Walloon Lake Country Club board, Kidd started the local lacrosse program, coaching various levels – including six years of high school – for 13 years. Currently he’s coaching fifth and sixth graders. “Lacrosse is my passion,” he said. “Two kids who played for me were national champions for club lacrosse at Michigan State.”
“We still want to grow the company. Kidd & Leavy is a recognized brand for luxury. We want to take what we do to other resort areas, grow into the surrounding towns that fit,” he said. “We also are looking at giving back, evaluating what we can do. As you get older you get more reflective.”
Owner, Harbor Brenn Insurance Agencies
Whitney’s father Bill Brower launched The Harbor Agency in Harbor Springs in 1977. The Brenn Agency of Petoskey merged with it in the mid-1980s, and the combined company moved to its present location shortly thereafter. “I grew up in the business,” said Whitney. “It’s been the most amazing career. I absolutely love it.”
More recently, the company acquired the Waldvogel Agency in 2014. “It was a really good fit for us,” she said. “They had good employees and good clients.”
Whitney said it’s important to continue to grow by adding more agents. While there has been little turnover, she said some longtime employees are looking at retirement.
“These are good changes, and good growth,” she said.
Whitney is the chair of Thriving Petoskey, an initiative launched in 2016 by the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce to promote the Conscious Capitalism movement, create value for customers and the community, a positive work environment, and promote healthy business and community relationships.
She is also on the board for the chamber of commerce, currently serving as treasurer. Additionally her service includes the Grand Traverse YMCA board and the board of the Noon Rotary Club of Petoskey, as well as participating in Connecting Women in Business, Zonta, Kiwanis, the Sheriff’s Victims Services Unit and Little League baseball.
Whitney would like to rebrand her business, including a logo, website and signage, as well as renovate the building.
“I’d love to continue to grow, expand our reach and footprint, as well as be a strong partner in the community,” she said. “If I could double in size in the next five years that would be exciting.”
Mayor of Charlevoix and owner, Charlevoix Cinemas, The Cantina and Northbound in Charlevoix
For Luther Kurtz, turning passions into business is business as usual. After falling in love with skydiving, he opened his own skydiving business in Harbor Springs. Not satisfied with one outlet, he began networking with other areas, from Ann Arbor to Phoenix. Eventually he moved the business to his hometown of Charlevoix while continuing to reach out to places like Jacksonville, Dallas and Atlanta.
“That business has grown to a national business,” Kurtz said.
But the man who studied aerospace engineering and has a law degree was just getting started. He and his wife bought a movie theater while still in Harbor Springs, rehabbing it with new projectors, seats, concessions and sound. Next up was what’s become the Mercado, after Kurtz bought and rehabbed three vacant buildings into the Cantina (Mexican food) as well as providing space for other shops, such as a salon, floral shop and clothing store.
Kurtz said he had a vision for connecting the community and to accomplish it he ran for city council. Two years later he became the mayor. He’s also the current president of the Top of Michigan Trails Council, serves on the DDA and works with Charlevoix Serenity House, which provides an alcohol and drug-free environment for recovery programs.
While he hopes and plans for his businesses to grow and thrive, Kurtz said he’s been working with the US Parachute Association regarding skydiving safety and rights. He said that’s related to the legal field, allowing him to utilize his law background, and could have a business future. But number one on his list? His status as a new dad.
Owner, Grandpa Shorter’s, JW Shorter and Son Mercantile, Trapper’s Cabin and the Katydid
Jennifer Shorter owns the business started by her grandfather after World War II. In 1983 her grandfather passed away, and her parents took over the store, renaming it in honor of her grandfather.
“I loved it,” said Shorter, who worked there from middle school through high school and college summers.
She was working at office furniture manufacturer Haworth when her parents called and said they’d decided to sell. “I said ‘I’ll be home,’ and resigned the next day,” she said.
Despite her longtime familiarity with the store, she found running the business a challenge. “I thought I knew everything, but there was a lot to learn,” she said. “Every day I still learn something.”
Since taking over the store, she’s added three more businesses to the portfolio: Trapper’s Cabin sells rustic furnishings, hunting and fishing décor and clothing. JW Shorter & Son offers home accessories, linens, candles and more. In May she opened the Katydid, which features recycled and repurposed items, art and Michigan-themed offerings.
Shorter is on the chamber of commerce board and was also on the DDA management board for a number of years. She funds a scholarship to nearby Camp Daggett, a tradition started by her grandparents and continued by her parents. She’s a member of the First Community Bank board and volunteers with Petoskey Band Boosters. She also supported Books for Love, a program that purchased more than 400 books for the Pellston Elementary library. “Pellston is where my grandparents met,” she said.
Even with the recent expansion, Shorter is not done yet. “I’ve been so focused on growth, but I have one more concept,” she said. Beyond that, she said she wants to focus on the four stores and improving what they are doing.
Owner, Short’s Brewing, Starcut Ciders in Bellaire and Elk Rapids
“I started with the idea of loving what I wanted to do and living where I wanted to live,” explained Short of his decision to open a brewery at the tender age of 22.
This was in 2003, when the microbrew business was truly microscopic. He’d learned brewing during what he calls his “short stint at college.”
He dropped out of school with the thought he could always return if the brewing thing didn’t work out. Western Michigan University’s loss was brewing’s gain, as Short’s has since become synonymous with beer in northern Michigan. And not just any beer, but wildly creative beers, like Melt My Brain (gin and tonic-flavored beer) and Bloody Beer ( with Roma tomatoes, peppercorns, celery salt, horseradish and dill).
The company grew from the original pub in downtown Bellaire to include a production facility in Elk Rapids in 2009 and in 2014 a “brewtique” called Short’s Mart. That same year Short launched Starcut Ciders. The company has expanded its distribution to include Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Colorado (cider only).
“We pour our efforts into organizations we believe in,” said Short. That includes the Bellaire DDA, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, TART Trails, the Campaign for Clean Water in Michigan, and Paddle Antrim.
As for his company’s future, Short says, “I’m always trying to figure that out.” The beer garden at the Elk Rapids facility opened Memorial Day weekend; the new three-story facility to house tanks, offices and a reception area is scheduled to be completed in the fall. “We hope to show steady growth,” Short said, especially in the Great Lakes region where he said Short’s is still relatively new. For 2019 he wants to rework the company’s branding.
President and CEO, Catt Development
“We’re all over northern Michigan,” said Catt, noting the office in Otsego County and the many developments on his growing list. Among other projects, this list includes Charlevoix Fitness, Charlevoix Pizza Company and the Townhouse Restaurant in Charlevoix. In Boyne City he developed One Water Street and owns Lake Street Pub, which he bought from 7 Monks.
The company was founded in 1951 by his grandfather, C. Glen Catt, as an extension to and expansion of the Glen’s Market supermarket properties. Today the company and its divisions – Catt’s Realty Company and Integrity Construction Services – provide commercial property services, from acquisitions and sale to construction and leasing of retail space. Its properties house supermarkets, banks, and shopping centers with local shops and national chains.
“The Sav-A-Lot was an old property and we worked with the DEQ to clean it up,” he said. “I’m very proud to be part of a lot of commercial construction.”
Catt has been on the board of Charlevoix Rotary and vice president of the Gaylord Rotary. He’s also on the Chemical Bank Regional Community Bank Board.
“One step at a time. We’ve got a great team of people and some great projects,” he said, pointing to the Lake Ann Camp and Otsego County library. “It’s nice to be at a point in life where we can pick and choose. I learned from my father and grandfather how to treat people. It has to be rewarding and fun.”
Owner, President, CEO, Harbor House Publishers, Inc.
Next year, Harbor House will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The company was started in 1969 by Cortright’s father, who owned an ad agency in Ann Arbor. The company launched when one of her father’s accounts asked him to create a publication to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the St. Lawrence seaway. That led to publications around the maritime industry.
Cortright joined the business, eventually buying it after her father moved to California for his health. After her husband got a job in Charlevoix, the couple moved to Boyne City.
Since then, “The business has grown in every direction,” Cortright said about her work with communities, chambers of commerce and convention bureaus in Michigan and the Midwest. As of now, the business is “25 percent maritime and 75 percent chambers and convention bureaus,” Cortright said.
The company produces guides, booklets and brochures, as well as digital newsletters, dining guides, maps and more for communities. Her maritime business includes directories, magazines and newsletters (online and print).
Cortright says because of the size of Boyne City, “one thing leads to another.” “Boyne City is a very functional small town, it’s grass-roots [and] volunteer-driven,” she said. Cortright walks the talk. She formerly served as the township clerk and is now a trustee. She’s also chair of the Boyne City Main Street board, and serves on the Charlevoix County Community Foundation, the Boyne Economic Development Corporation, the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce and the board of the Charlevoix State Bank.
“I’m waiting for what’s next,” said Cortright. “We’ve got high quality print, digital, mobile – I haven’t seen that new ship yet. We’ve been at this a long time, we’re content managers. Print is not disappearing.”
President, Edgewater Design
An architect by training, Baldwin worked for 17 years at Town & Country Cedar Homes, serving the last six years as president. But she found herself moving further and further away from the clients the company was serving and the design projects she loved. “I was missing that,” she said.
So in 2011 she left the company to start Edgewater Design, a move that enabled her to offer clients a variety of designs apart from the timber, log and post-and-beam construction that her previous company specialized in.
“I wanted to open up [the business] to commercial projects, cottage, modern, whatever the client wanted,” she said.
Since opening just as the industry was recovering from the recession, the company has expanded from six employees to eight. Since those early days, Baldwin said business has “almost doubled.” “There was only one direction to go,” she said with a laugh.
Edgewater has also added interior design service, or as she says, “one stop shopping” for new builds or remodels. Edgewater’s niche is still based around vacation or retirement homes, though she sees a future when more people move to the area year-round.
Baldwin is the vice president of the Home Builders Association of Northern Michigan after previously serving as the group’s president. She’s also chair of the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) and a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club. “Those three keep me pretty busy, plus I have a 16-year-old son, so [we are involved] with sports boosters,” she said.
“Interior design is a great next step for us. Customers were always asking for it. I see that as a potential area to acquire teammates in that service line,” Baldwin said.
Somewhere down the line Baldwin sees the possibility of adding landscaping to the company’s array of services, too. “So much of both commercial and residential want a tie to nature,” she said. “I see that as the next step.”
Also on her mind as she looks to the future is improving the region’s communication infrastructure. “For the NLEA, that’s number one on our docket,” she said. “As communities work on broadband [it will] make it easier to do business in remote areas.” Once that gets established, she believes the region will see more year-round residents, and more opportunity for her firm to build year-round homes.