What to Watch: What will make headlines in 2019?

What will we be reading and hearing about this year? From big changes in key community leadership positions to medical marijuana businesses in Traverse City, the TCBN has once again compiled a list of the people, places and products that we predict will be making headlines in 2019.

Below are five items from the What to Watch list. See the January print edition for the entire list, which includes updates on the home sharing debate, a proposed child care center, Sugar Loaf, a new mobile wine bottling service, and much more. 




Marijuana Poised To Light Up TC Market

By Beth Milligan

Marijuana could become big business this year for Traverse City, which just legalized medical marijuana sales within city limits and could do the same for recreational pot by the end of 2019.

City commissioners voted in December to allow five types of medical marijuana businesses to operate in Traverse City, including dispensaries/retail stores, grow operations, processing facilities, testing laboratories, and secured transportation companies. Businesses other than dispensaries are primarily restricted to the city’s industrial zones, while laboratories are additionally allowed in hospital districts. All businesses have to be at least 1,000 feet away from schools. Retail dispensaries are allowed in the same areas pharmacies can operate, including several commercial, hospital, development, and industrial districts. But businesses will be notably absent from one district: Commissioners banned dispensaries in downtown Traverse City.

Permits are unlimited and available immediately (for owners prequalified with the state) for all types of medical marijuana businesses except retail sales. Retail dispensary permits, which are limited to 13 total in the city, will be distributed through a lottery system in May due to anticipated high demand. The timing means medical marijuana dispensaries could be up and running in Traverse City by early summer.

Recreational sales might not be far behind. Though voters in November legalized recreational marijuana use and possession for residents over 21 – an initiative that took effect Dec. 6 statewide – TC commissioners temporarily “opted out” of recreational sales in order to give the state time to write its rules and regulations for the new product. Once the state has finished that process – it faces a year-end deadline – city commissioners plan to revisit the issue and potentially write local rules to mirror the state’s.


Wilbur Leads Tribal Economic Development Momentum

By Luke Haase

Expect Tom Wilbur, the new CEO of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians’ non-gaming arm, Grand Traverse Economic Development Corp. (GTED), to begin making waves in early 2019. Earlier in 2018, Wilbur told the TC Ticker, “This is a progressive tribe that recognized the need to diversify…and they want to diversify and enter the lucrative federal arena,” referencing the fact that he wanted to help the tribe contract with the federal government, the world’s largest buyer of goods and services.

Native American tribes enjoy certain minority set-asides and incentives within the federal budget. With its SBA 8(a) designation required to access those set-asides all but assured, GTED is now focused on the acquisition of a local manufacturing business to jump-start its efforts.

Wilbur says GTED plans to start or acquire at least one business per year for the next five years, and secure federal contracts for each company. “We will look at industries that are easily transferrable into the federal arena,” he said, including engineering, manufacturing, IT, and security “because tribes typically have expertise in those areas, or because the federal government has needs in those areas.

Traverse Connect CEO Doug Luciani says the tribe’s entry into federal contracting could yield big benefits for the entire region. “It’s a smart, fast way to create high-paying, sustainable jobs in the region – not just for tribal members, but for all of northern Michigan. If successfully implemented, this new direction for the GT Band could well be one of the more significant economic drivers our region has seen…” said Luciani.


Community Leaders Wanted

By Ross Boissoneau

2019 is destined to herald great change, with several community leadership positions now open. Doug Luciani announced in late July that he would be leaving his post as CEO of TraverseCONNECT in spring 2019. TraverseCONNECT is the parent organization of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce and Venture North.

TraverseCONNECT Board Chair Matt Bulloch said the organization is working with Human Resource Partners in Traverse City and has received some 40 applications for the position.  “Our hope is to have identified our preferred candidate by late January or early February, with a goal to have them start sometime in March, depending on the notice required from their current position.”

A trio of high-profile positions are opening at NMC, starting at the top. President Tim Nelson will retire effective Dec. 31, 2019.

“With 14 months’ notice we don’t have to move with great haste,” said Ken Weaver, chair of the NMC Board. He added that the board is not looking for a change agent – “We’re not looking to undo what Tim has done” – but someone with the ability to continue to explore the directions the college should go in to provide students the skills for jobs that may not even exist now.

Two other NMC leadership positions will also be filled in 2019: Gene Jenneman, director of the Dennos Museum Center since it opened in 1991, and Fred Laughlin, Director of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute, have both announced their retirement.

NMC spokesperson Cari Noga said Jeneman’s retirement offers an opportunity to assess and evaluate the museum’s role as it relates to the college and the community. “Several focus groups have been held to discuss that this fall, (which) will help inform the job description. The director’s position is expected to be posted in January, with the goal to have someone hired by April or May.”



Laughlin’s retirement was effective at the end of 2018. Sue DeCamillis, director of NMC’s Business Division, will serve in an interim capacity until a new director is hired. Noga said that similar to the process at the Dennos, Laughlin’s retirement after his long tenure (27 years) makes it timely to re-evaluate the program and its offerings in the context of the current culinary job market.

Grand Traverse County Road Commission Manager Jim Cook retired at the end of 2018. Though it’s possible a replacement will have been hired by publication of this article, Board Chair Marc McKellar said, “We don’t want to have an arbitrary deadline. The road commission is healthy financially and staff-wise. The place is running smoothly, and the public perception is high.”

Meanwhile, the search for Traverse City Film Festival Executive Director Deb Lake’s replacement is apparently on-hold. Creative Director Meg Weichman and Managing Director Susan Fisher took the reins for the 2018 festival, and Film Festival co-founder Michael Moore confirmed the search is not active at this time.


Traverse City Whiskey Co. Expansion

By Craig Manning

Traverse City Whiskey Co. has numerous expansions planned for the New Year. In 2018, the company announced that it had purchased the former Cherry Growers fruit processing facility on Leelanau Peninsula. The property, located at 9440 South Center Highway, will be the site of a new distillery and visitor center for Traverse City Whiskey Co. The new production facility will expand the company’s production capacity from 400 barrels a year to 4,000 barrels a year.

According to Chris Fredrickson, Traverse City Whiskey Co. owner, plans for the Leelanau property are still unfolding. Traverse City Whiskey has partnered with an architect and is “in the middle of the planning phase” for the project. The company is also in the process of purchasing larger equipment that will allow it to produce more product and “scale aggressively” in the future. Fredrickson said construction on the facility should be mostly finished by Memorial Day. The company is also negotiating with Elmwood Township, in hopes of solidifying zoning that would allow a tasting room onsite as part of the visitor center.

“Our perfect world scenario is that our new visitor center will be open by Labor Day 2019,” Fredrickson said.
Also on the docket is the opening of the company’s first-ever satellite tasting room, down in Ferndale. The tasting room will be located at the intersection of 9 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue, inside a well-known neighborhood pizzeria called Como’s Restaurant.

Finally, Fredrickson says that Traverse City Whiskey has plans to add several new spirits to its portfolio in the early part of the year.


Train Project Down The Rails

By Craig Manning

Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities is hard at work with Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA), the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers to re-establish rail service from Ann Arbor and Detroit to Traverse City and Petoskey. The project, abbreviated A2TC, made local headlines throughout 2018 as Groundwork and its partners conducted various studies to assess feasibility and interest. According to Groundwork’s Hans Voss, the findings were positive enough to push the project into the next phase.

“Our feasibility study came out, and what it says is that there is a viable course to revitalize passenger rail from Ann Arbor to Traverse City/Petoskey,” Voss said.

Voss said that 2019 will mostly be about upgrading the railway tracks to prepare them for an uptick in traffic. The Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee has allocated $2 million to pay for an initial upgrade to the railroad tracks on the east side of Boardman Lake, coming into Traverse City. Voss says this six-mile or so stretch of rail is the section along the entire Ann Arbor to Traverse City corridor that is in the worst shape.
By the spring of 2020, Voss says that the A2TC railway corridor should be able to support intermittent “excursion trains” for special events like the Cherry Festival, Film Festival, and peak fall color.

Regular service from Ann Arbor to Traverse City likely won’t come to fruition for a little while longer. According to Voss, initiating a regular service route is a process that involves getting authorization from the Federal Railroad Administration. To do so, Groundwork and its A2TC project partners will need to perform additional feasibility and environmental assessments, as well as secure state, federal, and private funding to support additional upgrades. Groundwork is projecting a 3-5-year timeline for that part of the project.