Michigan road grant paves way for business growth in Carney

Menominee County Commissioners Larry Johnson, left, and Nick Hanchek, right, represent the areas in northern Menominee County that expect to see new residents from a planned business expansion.

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The Village of Carney’s Guard Street is set to be improved to make way for 78 new lumber jobs in the next three years.

Performance Corp., based in Seymour, Wis., said it would expand its Carney sawmill facility provided the road was improved, so Carney Village President Eric Janofski worked to make it happen.

The Michigan Department of Transportation will provide $387,194 of the $483,992 project cost from a Transportation Economic Development Grant, with Performance Corp. and the Village of Carney paying the rest, according to a news release from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office. The expansion is expected to yield about 78 new jobs at the Carney facility and bring 38 employees from Wisconsin to the Michigan facility, according to the State of Michigan news release.

“That’s the big news of the day. The news du jour,” Janofski said. “If the business wasn’t there, we wouldn’t repave it. We wouldn’t have the money to do that. We would have rendered it back to gravel on our dime,” he said. The village might have lost jobs as a result instead of gaining them.

The expansion also could increase the tax roll and the school district size in Carney. “There are many different facets. It’s always nice to see a business grow,” said Menominee County Commissioner Larry Johnson, who represents District 8 in Nadeau Township. “It’s definitely welcome news.”

The expansion is “a really big deal for our community,” Janofski said. “The biggest impact is going to be at the school and the other local businesses, and also people living here.”

Without the funds to improve the road, Guard Street would have been gravel, he said. “If it would have been a gravel road, which would have been our only other option, they would have had to run at reduced capacity. So we’re all thankful that this happened.”

Janofski said he worked with the Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development (CUPPAD) Regional Commission in Escanaba to find the Transportation Economic Development Grant and apply for it. “When we were going to write the grant, people said call CUUPAAD. It paid off,” he said. “The state wanted to make sure they stayed here and didn’t move to Wisconsin,” Janofski said.

The transportation grant amounts to extra money for a road in Menominee County.

“This isn’t your normal selection process for a road project. That was a grant that was applied for,” said Darrell Cass, engineer manager at the Menominee County Road Commission. While the Transportation Economic Development Grant is from the Michigan Department of Transportation, it comes from a “totally separate bucket,” Cass said. The grant funds are set aside for projects designed to support economic development.

Most county road maintenance and repair costs are paid for primarily by taxes at the gas pump and vehicle registration licenses, but the economic grant is “a one-time grant that you could use toward a project,” Cass said. The Village of Carney worked with Performance Corp. to come up with the local funds required for the project.

The Guard Street project doesn’t fall under the Menominee County Road Commission’s budget because it is within the Village of Carney, Cass said.

But with an estimated population of about 200, Carney doesn’t have the tax base to repair the road without help. “Roads are so expensive to redo these days. I don’t know how they surfaced all these roads in the past. It’s like a million dollars a mile,” Janofski said.

The road improvement is expected to be a hit with Performance Corp.’s employees who travel on Guard Street. Chelsi Imhoff, an office and logistics supervisor in Carney, said Monday the news hadn’t yet reached most workers, but she expects it to boost employee satisfaction. “It’s going to be a lot when the road gets replaced. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make everybody’s day at work easier. If you’re not having to drive 5 miles per hour down a mile-long road just to get to work in the morning, it makes a difference in how you start your day.”

Besides the new road, the company is building a transportation maintenance shop “so we have the ability to service our own trucks and trailers,” she said. The company produces boards for pallets and other wood shipping containers.

Asked to describe the company’s production at Carney, she said, “We take raw logs and turn them into boards to make pallets.”

Recruiting new workers could be a challenge in a tight labor market. But the company plans to transfer some workers from Wisconsin, according to the news release. Imhoff said the company has 67 employees in Carney and 14 available positions. They don’t all live in Carney, she said.

“I feel confident they could bring some people to meet the need,” Johnson said.

“I see them advertising quite a bit for positions open. It’s kind of a workers market,” Johnson said.