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New report measures seasonal influx of workers, residents and visitors across region

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Northwest Michigan’s population rises and falls by 78% in the summer, with visitors accounting for 40% of the region’s total population during the peak month of July, according to a new report from Networks Northwest and Beckett & Raeder. The study, the first of its kind since 2014, shows the dramatic impact of the influx of seasonal workers, visitors and part-time residents to the region, including on infrastructure, emergency services and the availability of accommodations.

These impacts — often seen and felt locally but not clearly articulated in the data, according to Networks Northwest community development manager Rob Carson — are particularly notable in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, which have the highest concentration of rentals. term (STR) in 10 countries. counties. When Networks Northwest released its first report in 2014 on the region’s seasonal population, it did not include data on STR visitors or seasonal workers. But nearly a decade later, “there’s more hard data that’s readily available” on those categories, Carson says, noting that the organization is “much more comfortable with the numbers that have come out of this. study” due to the use of updated research methodologies.

The report provides key information on seasonal population figures in the 10 county region, including counties Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee and Wexford. According to the report, an increase of around 295,000 people in the region in the summer is due “mainly to overnight visitors”. Of the 270,000 visitors who come during the July peak, about 82% stay in “traditional lodging businesses like hotels, motels and campgrounds,” the report said. “Other overnight visitors stay in the STRs. On a monthly basis, the region averages around 4,300 STR listings and around 213,000 room nights available.

According to the report, the region’s part-time population – people who own second homes in northwest Michigan – is growing 636% in just four months, from a low of 13,130 in February. to 96,566 in June. “As a highly seasonal region, employment levels also fluctuate within the region,” the report said. “As of July, there are an estimated 15,898 seasonal employees in the region, representing 10.4% of the total workforce.

Seasonal variations in population and employment vary by county. Here are some key findings from the immediate five-county area report:

Grand Traverse County: With a permanent population of 95,238 individuals and a peak population of approximately 161,000, Grand Traverse has the largest population in northwest Michigan. Although it has the highest number of overnight visitors of all 10 counties, it also has a more stable permanent population, which never drops below 60% of the total population. However, while Grand Traverse County has “one of the lowest numbers of part-time residents, indicating that seasonal ownership is not as prevalent in Grand Traverse County,” the report also notes that some of these seasonal homes “may have been converted into one of the county’s 1,000 STRs. About a quarter of all STR listings in the area are in Grand Traverse County. The county also has the most seasonal workers , accounting for 30% of the region’s total seasonal workforce in July.

County of Leelanau: “Leelanau County is experiencing the greatest change between off-season and season of any county in the region,” the report said. “The total population increases by 126%, reaching 60,094 individuals in the month of July. Growth is driven by a large number of part-time residents and overnight visitors. The part-time population makes up over 20% of Leelanau’s total population during the months of June, July and August – the largest share of any county. Night visitors approach 26,000; while most stay in “traditional lodging businesses,” Leelanau also has the second-highest concentration of STRs behind Grand Traverse County, accounting for 16% of the area’s listings. The number of seasonal workers in Leelanau County peaked at around 1,100 workers in July.

County Antrim: In the low season, County Antrim’s permanent population of 23,431 individuals represents over 70% of the total population. But in summer Antrim’s population approaches 60,000, ‘due to the influx of second homes and overnight visitors’, according to the report. STRs see more guests than Antrim’s off-season hotels due to many businesses closing for the winter. On average, County Antrim’s workforce is 6.4% seasonal, but exceeds 15% in the month of June, or around 1,700 people. “Housing seasonal workers is an ongoing challenge for many local workers and businesses,” the report said. “The lack of seasonal housing limits the pool of workers to those who live in the area or who are lucky enough to find the few seasonal units.” Local businesses like Short’s have “assumed responsibility for finding seasonal accommodations,” the report notes.

Benzie County: At 17,970, Benzie County has one of the smallest permanent populations in the region. “However, in the month of July, taking into account second home owners and overnight visitors, Benzie County becomes the third most populous county in the region,” the report said. “The substantial increase in population is mainly due to visitors staying in accommodation businesses like campgrounds, hotels, and motels. Those who say in STRs are also contributing to the overnight visitor boom, but they represent only about 14% of the total overnight visitors in July.For half of the year, Benzie’s overnight visitor population is “larger than the permanent population and the second-home population combined “, says the report.

Kalkaska County: Kalkaska is another of the smaller counties in the region, with a total July population of 42,795. The permanent population of 17,939 people represents about 80% of the total off-season population and about 44% in summer. “The seasonal increase in population is primarily due to overnight visitors who primarily stay at campgrounds and RV parks,” the report said. “There are very few STRs in Kalkaska County; (they) represent only 2% of regional registrations in the month of July. Kalkaska also has a “relatively small seasonal workforce, likely because there is only one community in the county (the village of Kalkaska) with a concentration of commercial activity.”

There are both challenges and benefits to living in a highly seasonal area, according to Carson. On the plus side, Northwest Michigan draws large numbers of visitors, even without college sports teams, arenas, or large outdoor entertainment venues. “What we have is the natural beauty and the resources that drive these (seasonal numbers), and that obviously benefits a lot of industries: food, accommodation, gasoline, retail, etc.,” he says.

However, the simultaneous influx of visitors and seasonal workers can make accommodation very competitive and difficult to obtain for summer employees. Companies that have a pattern of increasing their workforce during the summer and reducing their workforce during the winter can make it difficult for employees to find stable, well-paying, year-round employment. The “surprising — almost alarming — number of STRs” also worries Carson about the rate at which long-term accommodation is being converted into vacation rentals. Seasonal population surges can put a strain on emergency services and public services, he says; this problem is exacerbated when firefighters, police officers, paramedics and nurses cannot afford or find housing and therefore relocate or refuse jobs. Infrastructure is another challenge: Many lakefront homes — built decades ago — lack modern septic systems and were intended to be used as single-family homes. Having a high number of visitors flow through these homes all summer puts a strain on these systems, Carson says, which ultimately poses a risk to local waterways.

According to Carson, the goal of the new report is to help city staff, planning commissioners and elected officials better understand the challenges facing their communities and create policies to address them – from regulating STR to rewrite zoning rules to encourage more density and year-around housing to invest in infrastructure. The latter notably includes broadband: Young professionals and families will never outgrow retirees who move to the area without technology that allows them to work remotely, Carson says. But with investments in broadband, workers could spread to more rural areas — places like Copemish, Mesick, Kalkaska, Bellaire and Boyne City — that have cheaper homes and land, which could help alleviate the housing crisis without forcing residents to travel long distances to work.

“When we have hard data like this, we can try to address these challenges head-on in a professional setting,” Carson says. “These are challenges that our communities need to plan for.”