Return North: The Journey Of Job Hunting In Michigan’S Upper Peninsula

Alongside its growing national presence, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (U.P.) is quickly becoming a top location for people looking to relocate. People who’ve never even heard of ‘Yoopers’ before are eager to explore our territory, and most importantly, looking for a reason to stay. Even our born-and-raised Michiganders, whose adventures lead them outside of our region over their years, are finding themselves aching to return home. And while some have the luxury of working remotely, for many others it means diving into the Upper Peninsula job market.


This wave of relocation and desire to return home doesn’t come as a surprise. Those who stumble upon our corner of the Midwest quickly find that the unique culture of the U.P. embraces a positive work-life balance, fosters a strong connection within our communities, celebrates our connection to nature, and welcomes rapid innovation. What’s even more enticing is the combination of abundant opportunities intertwined within the foundation of the Upper Peninsula built by those who’ve already found success by planting their roots. Of course, rapid development and an ever-changing digital landscape bring about specific challenges of their own, but rest assured that by the end of this article you, your spouse, your child, or your friends will have a holistic overview of the possibilities around relocating to the U.P. through our digital careers fair, Return North.

One of the most important aspects of any relocation is making sure you have your job lined up. Here in Upper Michigan, as we’re sure you can imagine, almost any employment opportunity is wildly in-demand. So much so, that when open positions are posted, employers can find themselves quickly overwhelmed by the number of applications. Especially in this digital age where a resume or job application can be submitted to employers within seconds! It’s remarkable, and while there are absolute advantages to the connectivity of the internet, it’s had a shared impact on the traditional hiring process within almost every industry. Both job seekers and employers have found that the process has become both impractical… and quite frankly… a little bit boring.


What’s missing from the modern-day hiring processes is an opportunity for an applicant to showcase their talents, experience, and personalities. Luckily, us Yoopers treasure face-to-face human experiences…we celebrate individuality, the interactions within our communities, and those standards are a vibrant aspect within our local businesses too. Employers are itching for a return to those real, authentic connections in their hiring processes… and we have a hunch that our applicants are too. Leading the charge on securing those real, authentic interactions directly between employers and job seekers here in Upper Michigan is the ‘Return North’ initiative.


As a recurring professional careers reception for employers and job seekers, Return North has been hard at work over the last 5 years to continuously establish spaces where those coveted, direct lines of communication can take place. Through Return North, candidates, companies & businesses all have an opportunity to meet in an organic, mutually beneficial environment. Conceptualized within MTEC SmartZone in Houghton county, Return North first began as an initiative to attract talented professionals to local startups in the area, however its alarming potential and widespread community interest quickly gave rise to its current direction & momentum. Return North has been putting extreme efforts into revitalizing the workforce & working opportunities for us here in our Peninsula, boasting a healthy, continuously growing list of more than 20+ impactful Northern Michigan companies (with notably increased interest generated from its success every year). Return North, although still relatively new, is sure to blossom as a key player in talent attraction and retention here in the Yoop.

In 2020, Return North responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with ingenuity by making the entire event accessible via an internet connection; something that one participant, Luke Comstock, wielded to his advantage in his own individual search for Upper Michigan employment. Previously applying his skill through the Grand Rapids area, Mr. Comstock had been searching for a way to inject himself and his family into the region for quite some time. After learning of the online event during a hunting trip, Luke drove from his camp into the nearest town, found a parking lot with a sturdy enough hotspot connection, sat in his car with his laptop and drove back to his camp a short while later with 2 separate job offers with companies he was eager to get in touch with prior. After accepting a respectable position with GS Engineering, Luke Comstock and his family relocated to Houghton, fulfilling their dreams of living an Upper Michigan lifestyle.

Through Return North, Luke was able to connect to, and have real conversations with the very employers he was most interested in working with, and vice versa.

“I accomplished more in an hour, in a parking lot with [a hotspot connection], than I had for a month sitting in front of my computer trying to do online job searching.
— Luke Comstock

Luke’s experience has become a bit of a success story within Return North, but even outside of the digital space, the initiative has helped a great number of talented individuals & families find their footing back in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


Like we mentioned earlier, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan truly stands itself apart. In addition to our rich culture, friendly neighbors and our amazing standards for a proper work-life balance is the promise of fresh air, relaxing weekends, ample space and a total reimagining of the value of an outdoor lifestyle. But if those benefits aren’t reason enough to warrant pursuing window shopping the various career opportunities we have in our region, there’s plenty of local festivals, trail networks, unique educational opportunities, farmers markets, Lake Superior waterfront, farm to table co-ops and most importantly… active, engaged communities that truly make efforts to incentivize innovation. Our community leaders are creating environments that not only encourage but support exciting new local businesses and ideas, and in turn, are responsible for creating some of the incredible job opportunities that are offered through Return North.

We invite you to join us on May 20th for the 5th installment of the Return North event. Similar to last year, the event this Spring will take place in a virtual setting – no driving or travel plans required! If you’re planning on bringing the next phase of your career into our humble Northern Michigan machine, we encourage you to take a few hours of your time (away from some time at camp, if need be) to connect with our roster of local businesses. Job seekers can sign up for this free public event by visiting the official Return North website.


Return North is a trusted, collaborative equal employment opportunity that’s brought to life by Innovate MQT SmartZone, MTEC SmartZone, and the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation. You’ll find Cybersecurity, Health & Human Services, Insurance, Manufacturing, Technology, as well as Higher Education as just a few of the industries represented at this U.P.-wide event. With a current roster of over 40 participating employers, the career opportunities in the Upper Peninsula are plentiful. Sign up now to make the connections to bring you back to the place you love. We hope to see you in the mix!