Fourteen islands around the Great Lakes have banded together to form a coalition to address their unique challenges, including a lack of broadband access and healthcare.
The new Great Lakes Islands Alliance was created out of an annual islands summit that began last year. The group has four main goals: connecting islanders with each other, information sharing, advancing opportunities for multi-island collaboration, and “amplifying island voices,” said Michael Childers, who chairs the alliance steering committee.
“What we want to try to do is make certain that our issues and concerns are heard by decision makers,” said Childers. “We think that’s more likely to happen if we’re talking collectively rather than individually.”
Childers lives on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, where he owns a small business.
Through a collaboration with Northland College in Wisconsin, the islands alliance will also collect data to better understand community needs. Childers says mainland rural communities, many with similar issues, can also benefit.
“If we can use data and better understand island community needs to help inform our activities, we can also help our public policy makers organize around that information and then share that with mainland decision makers,” said Childers.
He estimates that there are 30 populated islands in the Great Lakes, and the goal is to bring all of them into the alliance.
He’s also been in contact with islands in the St. Lawrence system, and even though they aren’t in the Great Lakes, “they share similar issues,” said Childers.