The Times They are A-Changin’

There are few constants in life as certain as change. While it can generate anxiety and fear, it can also bring excitement and fresh approaches to challenges and opportunities.

Change has begun for northwest Michigan and will continue in 2019. The change process is already underway for new leadership at several community institutions including Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City Area Public Schools, and Munson Medical Center. A leadership change is also imminent here at TraverseCONNECT, a regional economic development organization that I’ve led since 2015 as part of the reorganization of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, where I was first hired in 2003. These changes come on the heels of leadership hires over the past year at landmark organizations including Grand Traverse County, Networks Northwest, Rotary Charities, TBAISD, the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation and several others – not to mention people in elected offices.

In many ways, these leadership transitions reflect the amazing evolution of the region itself. They represent the transformation of northwest Michigan from a primarily vacation destination to a dynamic, year-round business and commerce center with thriving sectors of technology, small manufacturing, health care, finance and investment, food and beverage and others to augment our more traditional tourism, service and agricultural sectors. Our backyard is changing at a pace not seen in the past century – a pace moving too fast for some – but necessary and positive if we’re truly committed to a region designed for current and future residents to actually thrive here versus “get by.”

The opportunity and potential for the next generation of community leaders is vast with the cupboard fully stocked. There will be new approaches in addressing decades-old challenges that affect our region’s economic diversity, housing options, transportation and infrastructure, student achievement and early child development and care. We’re already seeing unprecedented levels of cooperation and collaboration among community organizations, business interests and public institutions to find comprehensive strategies to grow and diversify our regional economy, while protecting and enhancing our natural features and resources that make us unique.

Those of us among the “old guard” have an important role as well. Noted African-American novelist and playwright James Baldwin said, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” It’s our duty to make sure the leaders coming behind us know and appreciate our region’s complex history to thoroughly understand where we are today. Historic institutions like the chamber have played a role in the community’s evolution for decades, led by some of the region’s most prominent and successful individuals and their organizations. It’s incumbent on our organization and others to share that knowledge and context with our successors, but not use it to bind their hands and stifle new ideas and approaches to opportunities.

As for me, this is my last column as CEO of TraverseCONNECT. It is not bittersweet; it is exciting. Yes, it’s exciting for me – I have big goals – but it’s more exciting for the organization I leave behind and the community it has served for 104 years. Good things are happening in our region and the talent to take it to never-before-dreamed-of heights is straining at the leash. It has been my privilege and great joy to lead the region’s oldest and most consistent champion of business and steward of its resources. It is with optimism and great anticipation that I welcome and embrace the next generation of leaders.

Doug Luciani is the CEO of TraverseCONNECT, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at