Recession: recovery in progress or not?

The aftermath of the 2008-2009 recession is still being felt in the U.P., but a private nonprofit group is involved in record numbers of small business loans to entrepreneurs. Is it a positive sign for economic recovery?

The Bonanza Steakhouse in Marquette closed on Sunday after nearly 40 years in business. Farmer Q’s Market and Walker Furniture also recently said that they’re closing, though Walker Furniture is shutting down because the owners are retiring.

However, Northern Initiatives is setting new benchmarks in its support of small businesses in the U.P., northern Wisconsin and the northern Lower Peninsula.

“Last year, we did 63 loans, which is the largest number of loans that we’ve ever done in one year,” Northern Initiatives president Dennis West said. “We also invested over $4 million (in small businesses).”

And 2014 is expected to be even better. “Thirty-five percent of all businesses were created in the last five years,” West said. “That suggestion from the (U.S.) Small Business Administration is that there are lots of new activities occurring.”

West believes the loan activity is an encouraging sign for the region’s continuing recovery from the ’08-’09 recession.

“Despite the transitions, the thing that does seem to be pretty consistent is if you have a strong entrepreneurial culture and support of startups, that is helping to create more resilient and more diverse economies,” he said. “And the more diverse and resilient you are, I think the stronger you’re going to be.”

Enstrom Helicopter of Menominee was one of the companies honored recently by the regional business coalition Operation Action U.P. Enstrom’s president and CEO, Jerry Mullins, announced his retirement Tuesday.

“I think it’s very important to (be) involved in the industry and with organizations that can carry the voice especially to Washington, where we can be heard for the issues and the problems that we have and make sure that they’re addressed by our government,” Mullins said.

So, perhaps the best way to describe the situation is that there are still negative signs, but the seeds of long-range recovery are being planted and need time to bear fruit.