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Gaylord community leaders give updates on economy, tornado recovery

It’s been almost six months since Gaylord endured a devastating EF-3 tornado. While the immediate danger is long past, recovery is ongoing for many families and businesses.

Local leaders met Wednesday at the Otsego Resort for the Gaylord Chamber of Commerce annual State of the Community Breakfast. They mostly focused on good news relating to tourism growth and infrastructure projects.

Speakers included administrators from the city and county as well as the local tourism bureau, hospital and public schools.


The devastating May 20 tornado took up much of the conversation.

Disaster Recovery Coordinator Erin Mann told the crowd there’s still plenty of work to be done for the community to fully recover.

“It's not something that we can just figure out a solution for overnight,” she said. “So we could be in this process, or you could be hearing from me for, you know, another 18 months about recovery.”

Mann was in charge of the community United Way when the tornado hit, working with people that were displaced from their homes and raising money for the area.

Mann says about 200 structures were damaged in the tornado, many of which were low-income housing or commercial businesses. Because of this, Gaylord did not meet the threshold of uninsured damages to qualify for Federal Emergency Relief Agency assistance.

Nevertheless, the community raised about $1.8 million throughout the community. The Otsego Community Foundation has distributed over $900,000 so far to aid families and businesses.

Mann said the local United Way helped around 552 clients and 880 services.

“One of the biggest things that we did was hire case managers to respond to unmet needs,” Mann said. “They are experts in disaster recovery. And that's why we brought them on board.”

The group “After the Storm” was brought in for case management.


Gaylord City Manager Kim Awrey gave an update on the city's 10-year street millage, first passed in 2013.

“The city has been able to fully reconstruct 25 city blocks, a full reconstruction of a portion of Dickerson Road,” Awrey said. “We reconfigured and enlarged the parking lot behind the Sugar Bowl and upgraded some undersized and outdated utility lines.”

Awrey said Gaylord spent over $13.5 million on the street projects. More than $9 million came from tax revenue, $3.5 million came from grant funding and $1.1 million came from utility allocations.

Over the next 10 years, Awrey says the city will shift its focus to decongesting Main Street and utility upgrades.

Newly appointed Otsego County Commissioner Matt Barresi also gave infrastructure updates.

He pointed out the drainage system for Otsego Lake is over 50 years old and needs replacement, the Alpine Center which includes the county family and circuit courts needs additional space and he emphasized the need for a new county jail.

“We have a very aged jail that was built for a society back in the 60s,” he said. “It's not the kind of folks that we’re getting in there now and we'll have to find a way to make that last a little longer.”


Hospitals remain concerned about the highly transmissible coronavirus.

Chris Squire is President at the Otsego Memorial Hospital. He says the facility is still dealing with unpredictable numbers of COVID patients.

“We don't know what to anticipate. The more we cohabitate and move into that winter season, the more it's transmitted, the more variance we see.”

Squire says the hospital still treats about 30 COVID patients on any given day.

He also highlighted nation-wide staffing shortages that are particularly impacting rural areas like Otsego County. He recommends seasonal booster shots for both COVID-19 and the flu.


Paul Beachnau is Executive Director at Gaylord Area Convention and Tourism Bureau. He reported a 1.2 million record-setting budget for his organization this year and sales that surpassed those before the pandemic in 2019.

He attributes much of it to Gaylord’s growing golf industry.

“Golf was one of the silver linings of the COVID pandemic,” he said. “Rounds were up 10.5 percent and expenditures on golf courses were up 22 percent.”

“We expect to see very stable, consistent travel. We've worked really hard to develop our brand, and branding for both golf and for all of Gaylord’s outdoor activities.”

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.