Economic Opus: Interlochen’s Ripple Effect on Northern Michigan Economy

You’re probably familiar with summer camp, live concerts, and the Interlochen Center for the Arts alumni roster that includes more than its fair share of superstars. But what kind of impact does the world-renowned arts organization have on the economy of northern Michigan at large? An internal Interlochen study from 2017 noted that $ 8.9 million was paid to suppliers in the Grand Traverse area in a single year, and that over a five-year period, Interlochen spent a total of $ 13.3 million for construction projects, with local businesses as the main beneficiaries. Some 700 local suppliers sell to Interlochen each year, including Tom’s Food Market, Grand Traverse Pie Company and D&W Mechanical. But its reach extends even beyond those companies into the larger community.

It all starts with the students: According to Simone Silverbush, director of media relations and communications, the Interlochen Academy of the Arts had 503 boarding students enrolled in the 2020-21 school year, as well as 42 students from day. A total of 18 countries and territories were represented among the academy’s student body. The Interlochen Arts Camp, on the other hand, welcomes approximately 2,800 campers each summer for programs of three to six weeks.

With so many Interlochen students and campers arriving from all parts of the world, one of the biggest economic impacts occurs via air travel. According to Cherry Capital Airport Manager Kevin Klein, travelers associated with Interlochen make up one of its largest traveler populations. In fact, Interlochen has a fully dedicated student travel office to work “with students, parents, airlines and the institution to coordinate student travel to and from the Interlochen campus”.

Joe McCarthy, director of security and transportation for the Interlochen campus, estimates that in a typical year, the academy and arts camp collectively account for between 2,000 and 3,000 student flights.

On the academy side, McCarthy says Interlochen “would typically schedule more than 1,200 student flights during the school year.” According to McCarthy, the academy has around 250 seniors in a typical year, many of whom travel across the country for college auditions in January and February. Auditions have largely gone virtual this year, which means less travel for students.

The arts camp, meanwhile, will likely see around 800 flights in total this season, between early season arrivals, late season departures, and mid-season changes (the mid-July period when a three week camp ends and another begins). In the average summer, the number of people arriving and departing by plane is even higher.

Students and campers aren’t the only ones coming to the Interlochen campus. Luggage, furniture, musical instruments and works of art are also coming in and going out on a regular basis. Responsibility for these assets is The Packaging Store, located on Barlow Street in Traverse City.

According to Robert Petersen, who runs the company, The Packaging Store’s first relationship with Interlochen dates back to “the late 80s or early 90s”, when the franchise first landed a contract to handle the needs. expedition of the academy and the artistic camp. This contract lasted until 2012, when Petersen said Interlochen “took over everything internally and stopped using an outside company for shipping.” But when Interlochen sold its bookstore to a new business owner in 2019, The Packaging Store won the contract back.

The Interlochen contract gives rise to a few extremely busy periods each year.

“That’s a lot of volume over a short period of time,” he explains. “For us, that turns into a busy two weeks in late May or early June (when academy students move out). And then for the summer camp, when it ends and all the campers go home, same thing.

Over the years, the Interlochen relationship has meant that Petersen and his team have grown accustomed to packing and shipping bulky or unusually shaped items – cellos, tubas and large ‘multidimensional sculptures’, to name a few. .

This relationship has also meant a considerable amount of income. Petersen estimates that in the beginning, before Interlochen took everything in-house, the contract represented up to 20% of his store’s annual gross revenue. Thanks to the pandemic, things at Interlochen haven’t been more or less completely normal since The Packaging Store took over this contract – and the store has “grown tremendously” since 2012 as well – so Petersen doesn’t know how big a deal. part of its income will eventually come from Interlochen now. Yet even with a larger store and a more diverse source of income, he estimates that the academy and arts camp will still be 10-12%.

Interlochen is also having a clear impact on the region’s hospitality and tourism sectors. Following last year’s virtual hub for the academy and arts camp, Interlochen has adopted a closed campus policy for this year. Since then, no performances have been open to the public, and parents and families have been significantly limited in their ability to tour or explore campus during drop-off and pick-up hours.

Both restaurants and hotels have suffered from these changes.

“We do about a third of what we would normally do in a summer season,” says Brian McAllister, owner of the Hofbrau Steak House & American Grille, less than two miles north of the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

In an average year, Hofbrau attracts large crowds of spectators, Interlochen art camp staff and families. All of these cases disappeared last summer; most have not yet returned.

“Because it’s a closed and partially-capacity campus, you don’t have as many counselors or staff arriving after 9:00 pm,” McAllister notes. “You don’t have parents or grandparents who come to see their children’s performances. You don’t get the traffic together. It’s kind of like pulling the Cherry Festival out of downtown Traverse City and saying, “Good luck. It’s just a lot of people you can’t replace.

Tammy Bialik – who is a co-owner of the nearby Interlochen Motel – echoes McAllister’s statements.

As the closest option for hotel or motel accommodation near the Interlochen campus, the 14-room Interlochen Motel is routinely not available on key dates on the academy or arts camp calendar. .

For Bialik, it became evident early in the pandemic how much a disruption to Interlochen’s schedule could affect his business. From graduation to summer concerts at the Interlochen Arts Festival, the motel has gone “from sold out to nothing” for several dates in the spring and summer of 2020.

The bright spot? With Interlochen resuming its concert series in August, Bialik is already seeing a rise in business at the motel.

“We’re already sold out for all of these concerts,” she said. “August 3 for Chicago, August 10 for Harry Connick, Jr. It’s Tuesdays and we’re full.”

She attributes the unique community of Interlochen to being an attraction for large groups of visitors when Interlochen “fully reopens”.

“There is nothing like Interlochen for our region,” she said. “We still have the weddings, we still have our fishermen that we love, we have groups of motorcycles coming to make their trips on the 22nd. But we love our parents Interlochen. We kind of follow their trip over time, because they drop off their kids every year, and we get to know them.