Great Lakes Sports Commission Helps Sustain Important Economic Sector

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Michigan has played host to international-level sporting events and competitions for well over 35 years. The Great Lakes Sports Commission (GLSC) is focused on continuing to promote Michigan as the premier destination for recreation sports and tourism.

In 1985, Northern Michigan University (NMU) officially became an Olympic Training Center (OTC) site, joining Colorado Springs, CO, and Lake Placid, NY, as the nation’s third OTC.

The name was later changed in 1989 to the “Olympic Education Center” to reflect the center’s commitment to incorporating educational opportunities.

On March 20, 1987, the “first generation” Great Lakes Sports Commission was created under Executive Order 1987-4.

This early commission was responsible for the establishment, operation, and promotion of a Great Lakes Sports Training Center at NMU. The Michigan legislature approved $21,800,000 for the construction of a sports training complex, soon to be named The Superior Dome.

On September 14, 1991, the Superior Dome opened its doors for its first football game. A capacity crowd of 7,942 fans watched Northern Michigan University defeat the University of Indianapolis, 31-20.

The Superior or “Yooper Dome” is still the fifth-largest wooden structure in the world, an impressive manifestation of the region’s sustainable forest-product resources. Standing 14 stories and covering 5.1 acres, the dome showcases the ingenuity and structural integrity of tall wood buildings.

The executive order that established the original sports commission was repealed on April 15, 2004 by Governor Jennifer Granholm, citing a lack of sustainable funding.

However, on December 18, 2018, Governor Rick Snyder approved Senate Bill 601 that allocated $10 million to the new and improved Great Lakes Sports Commission, and most importantly for rural Michigan, established the Northern Michigan Tourism and Sports Fund.

State Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) provided the impetus for this reinvigorated effort to immediately develop or improve facilities for large events promoting sports-related tourism and recreation in northern Michigan.

Senator Casperson recognized northern Michigan’s unparalleled potential for growing sports, recreation and tourism, and the benefits that sports provide for youth, healthy lifestyles and keeping talent in rural Michigan.

Moreover, he saw a clear inequality in how the state failed to invest in northern Michigan over a span of decades.

Senator Casperson remarked on the Senate floor, “this is truly a transformational opportunity for the entire state of Michigan. Michigan’s business and outdoor recreation generates $27 billion in direct consumer spending in our communities and supports over 50,000 hotel, restaurant, and manufacturing jobs in northern Michigan alone.”

Senator Casperson listened closely to community leaders across the region to get a better understanding of the tremendous unmet needs in trails, venues, ballparks, ice rinks, and economic catalyst events like Copper Peak in Ironwood, Pine Mountain in Iron Mountain and Suicide Hill in Ishpeming, that could bring the world’s attention to Michigan and produce future Olympians.

In its current form, the new and improved member-driven Great Lakes Sports Commission serves the 36-county northern Michigan region.

As a nonprofit, the organization’s mission is to promote Michigan as a premier destination for recreation, sports, and tourism. Building on the successful sports complex at NMU some 30 years ago, we all know intuitively the natural attraction of sports and recreation to strengthen the economic vitality, health, and quality of life in Michigan communities.

The GLSC’s goal is to grow the Northern Michigan Tourism and Sports Fund into a multi-generational sustainable revolving loan and grant fund to assist in infrastructure improvements and events in every county.

Sports is a powerful economic engine. It provides opportunity, revitalizes communities, and instills leadership skills.

We are reminded of how much we miss sports as we sit on the sidelines today to safely protect each other from a global pandemic. We will get through this stronger than ever before. When that time comes, the GLSC, members, and partners will be ready to get back on the field serving communities in northern Michigan.

Our region is strong and resilient, and northern Michigan has so much to offer.

It is time we relentlessly work together as a team to advance opportunities and grow our region for a healthier and more prosperous tomorrow.

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Kevin Korpi

Kevin Korpi is the founder and interim executive of the Great Lakes Sports Commission. He is also a principal at Acuitas - a government relations firm excelling in strategy and solutions. Kevin is a native of Ironwood and loves the Upper Peninsula’s spirit and natural beauty.

Susie Fox

Susie Fox is the Director of Business Development for the Great Lakes Sports Commission. Having recently left a 23-year career as a Class A LPGA Golf Professional, Susie has a passion for sports and a desire to promote Northern Michigan as a premiere destination for sports and recreation.


  1. Rick Popp on August 19, 2020 at 7:56 am

    Well done. Excellent article and an important organization for both the near and long-term future of the UP.

  2. John Porter on August 19, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    The country’s only natural luge track is in Negaunee and another Ironwood native is a major coach with USALuge, Pat Anderson.

  3. […] Featured on: Rural Insights Blog […]

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