K.I. Sawyer survey finds disconnects in public perception

The nonprofit group Community Hand-UP teamed up with the Northern Michigan University Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department to survey the K.I. Sawyer area.

“(We wanted to come up with) not what an expert thinks is needed out there, but what the people out there think that they need to develop the community and make it a better place,” NMU adjunct assistant professor Teresa Bertossi said.

After one-on-one interviews, a public focus group session and a questionnaire brought door-to-door to more than a thousand households, the survey came up with two major findings. One is that there’s a large disconnect between how Sawyer residents perceive the area and how non-residents perceive the area.

“We definitely see that at Sawyer,” Community Hand-UP director Lisa Johnson said. “You hear people outside the community having negative comments toward the community. Definitely the people in the community of K.I. Sawyer feel that negative perception.”

About two-thirds of residents said either that Sawyer is a great place to live, that it’s mostly OK but has issues like anywhere else or that it’s pretty good but has a bad rap. More than half of those same residents said they hear from others that Sawyer is the closest thing the U.P. has to a slum or that it’s OK for someone else but that they’re glad they don’t live there.

“Some of the negative perceptions are coming from the fact that there’s high-density rental units out there,” Bertossi said. “Some of the multiplexes are maybe not being run so well.”

The other key finding was that another major type of disconnect exists. “There has been some disconnect over the years with community development out there, versus kind of business development, and so one of our concerns is that there really needs to be a balance of both,” Bertossi said.

“It has to include both of those,” Johnson said. “People need to support the businesses and the businesses need to support the people, and so, if there’s that relationship of building both portions of that community development, there will be a better long-term result.”

The 111-page report of survey results is available for free online at communityhandup.net. A grant from the NMU Center for Rural Community and Economic Development paid for the survey.