State-Wide Talent Attraction Initiative Wins International Awards For Excellence In Economic Development

Back To Michigan Wins Awards for Excellence in Economic Development

Back To Michigan, a state-wide talent attraction event series, was awarded a Silver and Bronze ranking by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) at the Council’s 2021 annual conference.

Spearheaded by Hello West Michigan, Back To Michigan it is a collaborative effort by more than ten organizations representing multiple regions across the state. Innovate Marquette SmartZone is proud to represent the Upper Peninsula, along with our partners at MTEC SmartZone and Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (EDC), to host the annual Return North career fair.


Back To Michigan is the umbrella brand for the talent attraction events that happen in Michigan around the Thanksgiving holiday. The event series aims to promote Michigan as a great place to live and work and reach people who are interested in relocating to Michigan. By providing job connections and relocation resources, Back To Michigan aims to attract talent to Michigan.

Back To Michigan is a collaborative effort by multiple host organizations: Ann Arbor Spark, Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, Hello West Michigan, Innovate Marquette SmartZone, Lansing 5:01, Let’s Detroit, Middle Michigan Development Corporation, MiWorks! NE Consortium, MiWorks! Region 7B, MTEC SmartZone, Saginaw Future, Sault Ste. Marie EDC, TCNewTech, The Right Place Inc., and Traverse Connect.

“Our committee came together during Covid and consisted of a dozen host organizations, most of whom had never worked together or even met each other,” said Rachel Gray, Executive Director of Hello West Michigan. “Together, in collaboration with the State of Michigan, we organized an event series that resulted in over 2,000 registrants and multiple hires. The Back To Michigan Host Organization Committee is helping to alleviate one of the most critical challenges regions are facing right now: attracting talent.”


As part of the state-wide Back To Michigan talent attraction initiative, Return North is a professional career fair aimed at retaining Upper Peninsula talent as well as attracting alumni, former residents, and friends of the U.P. back to the region. The event is a true U.P.-wide event hosted by all three Upper Peninsula-based SmartZones: Innovate Marquette SmartZone, MTEC SmartZone, and Sault Ste. Marie EDC.

The most recent Return North event took place on May 20, 2021 and was presented by TriMedia Environmental & Engineering. We would like to also thank our gold-level sponsors: InvestUP, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Michigan Technological University, NorthCross Group, and Upper Peninsula Michigan Works!


IEDC’s Excellence in Economic Development Awards recognize the world’s best economic development programs and partnerships, marketing materials, and the year’s most influential leaders. 25 award categories honor organizations and individuals for their efforts in creating positive change in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Awards are judged by a diverse panel of economic and community developers, following a nomination process held earlier this year. IEDC received over 500 submissions from 4 countries.

At the Council’s 2021 annual conference, Back To Michigan took home two awards:

Back To Michigan Host Organization Committee won Silver in the Regionalism and Cross-Border Collaboration category

Back To Michigan event series won Bronze in the Innovation Programs and Initiatives category

“The winners of IEDC’s Excellence in Economic Development awards represent the best of economic,” said 2021 IEDC Board Chair and Invest Buffalo Niagara, President, and CEO Tom Kucharski. “This year, more than ever, has presented opportunities to innovate, impact, and progress the cities, neighborhoods, and communities around us.”


Are you looking to take your career back to the place that you love? Stay tuned for updates on our next Return North event. For more information, visit

In the meantime, hear from one candidate about his journey of job hunting in the U.P. and how the connections he made at Return North gave him and his family the opportunity to relocate to the Keweenaw Peninsula.