46.5436° N, 87.3954° W
Amy Clickner of Neguanee, CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership in Marquette, is a Superior Woman. Clickner is celebrating her 20th year at the helm of this regional economic development agency that has helped put Marquette County on the map.
By Dale Hemmila
On a recent afternoon, Amy Clickner’s cellphone rings in her Marquette, Michigan office. Before she says hello, she turns the phone to show an office visitor the name of the caller: It is Gretchen Whitmer, then-candidate for governor, and now Michigan Governor-elect, is on the line.
Hearing from governors, legislators, statewide and regional representatives, business leaders and local community officials, is pretty much all in a day’s work for Clickner, who serves as chief executive officer of the Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP), Marquette County’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
Not bad for someone whose original professional goal was to become a legal secretary.
This job, and all that goes with it, began 20 years ago when Clickner was the first employee of what would become a strong, regional economic development organization, with a reputation that is well respected statewide. That reputation and respect is due in large part to what Clickner has done as the face of the operation for the past two decades.
The Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP) was born out of a need recognized by business and community leaders that more was needed to drive economic development in Marquette County than what was being accomplished. Thus, this private/public partnership was built with the merger of two chambers of commerce and a county-wide jobs coalition. It was then contracted by Marquette County to take over the operation of its EDC.
To-date, the LSCP has been quite successful in fulfilling its mission: “To stimulate and sustain a vibrant regional economy by facilitating economic growth and prosperity.”
So where does Clickner come in?
A native of nearby Negaunee, Clickner shipped herself off to downstate Ferris State University to earn an associate degree in office administration. Upon her return to the U.P., she found employment working for a local telecommunications company. It didn’t take long for her to decide that her initial career path to become a legal secretary was not the right track for her.
“I wanted a secretary instead of being a secretary,” she said with a laugh.
That decision led her to Northern Michigan University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in office administration/management.
After leaving the telecommunications company, she landed in a management position at a Marquette- based call center. In early 1998, however, she found herself downsized when the company made budget cuts.
At about the same time, business, government and community leaders in Marquette County were at the cusp of creating the economic development partnership they envisioned.
While doing consulting work for the fledgling organization, Clickner was approached by local businessman Don Ryan, a founding board member of the LSCP, about interviewing for a full-time position with the organization.
Ryan recalled that the LSCP was working through a number of complex issues related to the closure of nearby K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, and a plan to move the existing county airport to the closed base.
“The project had grown beyond the point the board members could devote the time to handle the work involved, so it was agreed we would hire someone to help,” Ryan said. “There were many tasks that needed to be handled relating to public relations and communications. After interviewing several candidates, we all agreed that Amy was the individual who could provide the help we needed.
“What she may have lacked in experience at the time, she made up for with enthusiasm and an ability to immediately get involved and work closely with the board members who did bring a wealth of experience in many different fields to the organization. It didn’t take us long to realize we had made the right decision by bringing Amy on board.”
And Clickner recalled her early days as the new operations manager for the LSCP as daunting, but rewarding.
“I had a lot to learn, thinking back to how green I was,” she said. “But I think it was the challenge I needed. This was very exciting and very challenging.”
Not the least of those challenges was stepping into a conference room to work with a board of directors consisting of very successful local business people.
“As intimidating as that room could be, I could still get my feet wet,” she said. “I was learning more about the board members, the structure of the board and finances.”
She credits Ryan and board member Phyllis Maki — one the few women involved at the time — with offering her the support and mentoring she needed to step into her new role.
From those early beginnings, the LSCP has grown into an influential voice in economic development in the Upper Peninsula and, not surprisingly Clickner’s role and influence has grown with it.
“Part of it is continual learning and a certain confidence you gain as you are willing to listen,” she said regarding her 20 years of experience. “This job is all about building relationships, and a lot of that is being true to yourself. Confidence is a good thing and having a good team around you is important.”
If relationship building is a key measure of success, then certainly the LSCP and Clickner have proven their merit. It is fair to say the LSCP and Clickner have built solid reputations well beyond the shores of Lake Superior.
Clickner cites collaboration projects with the economic development organizations of Dickinson and Baraga counties as critical to regional development, and a satisfying accomplishment for the LSCP, which had not been done previously.
In addition, during Clickner’s tenure at the LSCP, the organization has been recognized as an Accredited Economic Development Organization (AEDO) by the 5,000+ member International Economic Development Council (IEDC). It was only the second AEDO in Michigan at the time, and currently only one of four statewide. It is the only AEDO accredited organization in the UP.
Clickner’s professional growth included serving as a board member of the IEDC and past chairperson of the IEDC’s Economic Development Research Partners.
“It’s pretty cool being one of seven board members in a 5,200 member organization,” she said. “You feel pretty good getting to that point.”
She is also a board member and past president of the Michigan Economic Development Association, hosts “U.P. Perspectives” on the Michigan Business Network, and writes a weekly column for the local newspaper. Locally, she has held membership and leadership position in a number of civic and business organizations, and was recognized for her leadership and mentoring of girls and women with the 2009 Evergreen Award.
With an eye toward the axiom “a rising tide lifts all boats,” all of this involvement helps to promote economic development in Marquette County, the region and the state.
“For a professional, we need to know what’s going on and raise the voice of economic development incentives, education and awareness of why economic development is important to the regions and statewide,” she said.
While all of this was accomplished professionally, the domestic side of Clickner has always remained “family first.” She and her husband, Kurt, are parents to two now-grown daughters, Jocelyn and Courtney. Now that both daughters have “flown the coop,” she hopes they saw her as a good model for their own growth.
“We’ve talked about it,” she said. “They both, I think, are proud of me. They are both strong women and I don’t worry about them being in a relationship where they can’t be what they want to be.”
And she recalls the best advice she gave to her daughters:
“The right thing is always the right thing,” she said. “Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it’s not easy to take the high road, but it’s the right thing.”
So here, 20 years after the inception of the LSCP, and being its only CEO, Clickner can easily reflect on her time and accomplishments and what it has meant to her and her family.
“The biggest word that comes to mind is blessed,” she said, reflecting on those two decades. “I stayed where I wanted to stay and yet accomplished so many things. I get to do this and I get to do it here. I wouldn’t have believed you could, until I did.”
Yes, she did, and perhaps Don Ryan captured best what she has accomplished since the first nervous board meeting at the LSCP.
“In the 20 years that have passed since Amy joined the Lake Superior Community Partnership, its success and growth closely paralleled the growth that Amy experienced, as her responsibilities grew within the organization,” he wrote in a recent email.
“While her services were critically important to the LSCP from day one, her role grew from the person who carried out the decisions made by the board, to someone who initially became part of that leadership group, and eventually to be the person who led that policy-making process.
“She has become not only the leader of the LSCP, but someone who is viewed as a leader in economic development in Michigan and beyond. Today, in the view of many, she is the LSCP.”
To learn more about the Lake Superior Community Partnership, visit the website at www.marquette.org.