The small town of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, braces for an enormous construction project, as work begins on the new Soo Lock. A 1,200 foot, Poe-sized lock will be built to increase river traffic. The new lock replaces the Davis and Sabin locks, both non-operational. The addition of a new Poe-sized lock is critical, should the existing Poe lock fail unexpectedly.
An interview with Jeffrey Holt, the Executive Director of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), reveals the economic impact that the new Soo Lock will bring to the Sault, MI, community.
Although the construction is estimated to finish in the summer of 2030, the publicity alone is already having an effect on the area. “When you’re talking a billion dollars, it gets people’s attention”, Holt said, “people are very curious”.
Nikki Radke, Development Specialist at the EDC, added, “Letting people know the Soo Locks are here and able to be viewed, really puts us on the map”.
Housing in Sault Ste. Marie is limited, with many older houses and fewer long-term rental options. Many of the Soo Locks employees are having to stay in local hotels, creating less room for tourists. Holt calls this a “double edged sword”, as it is beneficial that employees have a place to stay in town, but hotels are not ideal for long-term housing.
The new construction on the Locks has also provided job opportunities, creating openings for skilled laborers. This may damage local businesses, as they lose employees to the lock project, but the empty positions provide new job openings for locals looking for work.
Holt expects Sault Ste. Marie’s economy will benefit in many ways, even after construction ends. Holt explains that the Corps of Engineers has indicated indirect jobs and induced jobs will arise from the project further down the supply chain. Local manufacturers have already provided materials needed for the project. 1.4 million tons of limestone and granite, 112,000 tons of American-made cement and 24,000 tons of American-made steel.
Hospitals, clinical services, restaurants and gas providers will all see a spike in numbers both during and after construction.
Radke hopes that the Sault Ste. Marie community may tempt current Soo Locks employees and retiring Coast Guard workers to stay in the area, even after work finished on the locks. Holt follows this by saying they hope that these workers will bring their families to the area. Both Radke and Holt also hope to see some of these workers start businesses in the region.