July offered a curious report on jobless data, to say the least. Michigan’s jobless rate fell to 3.7% — well below the national rate of 4.3%. This is quite a remarkable journey from the days when Michigan consistently was dead last in jobless rates among the 50 States. However, jobless rates went up in each county among the ones that we track, with only four of the Wisconsin counties dropping.
Speaking of August, the imminent 1,000th loan is upon us. News about that will follow soon.
In July, Northern Initiatives held our Annual Board of Directors Retreat. This year, the event took place in Fremont, Michigan. The main highlight of the meeting was the approval our five-year strategic plan. Other notable highlights include geographic expansion, staff and financial growth, and building new partnerships.
When one looks at a map of our geography, NI covers a big area. A consistent piece of our work is to bring about access to capital and also knowledge building resources. This does in fact become more challenging as NI adds loans. We currently have 202 borrowers in our portfolio and reach, and we have made loans in 47 of the 51 counties.
An innovative solution was to build a customer portal, Initiate. The portal offers our customers over 200 resources — 21 videos, calculators and articles, all organized under money, marketing and management — with then sub-topical areas. The portal is helping our staff and customers enter into a practice of blended learning. Learning resources are available to customers 24/7 and available in ways that support various learning styles.
The blended learning part is that coaches are able to work with customers on strategies and tactics, with portal resources helping customers learn terms and definitions. Last year was the first year where all customers had access to the portal, and we saw a jump in reach to our customers from 40% in the prior year to 60%.
To get a sense of some of the videos available to our customers, please visit our website, northerninitiatives.org. You will find some of our favorite U.P. customers helping us introduce topics.