Choose the North

Aug 7, 2023 | Hype

To address the talent challenges faced by many local businesses, the 2023 NLEA/DTE Energy Foundation Interns are launching a talent attraction campaign and brand to show what makes living and working in Northern Lower Michigan special. The team’s goal is to target individuals 18- to 30-years-old, a demographic that the region is losing but is integral to the workforce. Social media content will show the unique lifestyle the region has to offer through interviews with locals who are living their best lives in Northern Lower Michigan.

Many thanks to NLEA (Northern Lakes Economic Alliance and DTE Energy Foundation for highlighting Little Bay Boards as a part of their 2023 Intern Project: Choose the North campaign.

Hi, I’m Jason Thelen, founder of Little Bay boards. Living near the water is definitely helpful for the business, you know, Northern Michigan, you can’t be more than six miles away from water, compatible water. 


I was born and raised here.  My family heritage is here, you know, indefinitely, before it was ever Michigan or Petoskey or anything like that, so I was really drawn to how beautiful, safe, quiet it is.  Everything about our business is unique.  We build sustainable, eco-friendly paddle boards, you know, out of real wood.  Every component of it is something that other people don’t do.  You know the Artistry alone is what it’s known for but everything that’s backed up by is World astounding.


We’re not creating anything that goes into a landfill.  

  • We refuse to throw anything away.  
  • We’re always making more things out of our smaller stuff.  
  • We use eco-friendly resins. 
  • We use everything from the United States


All of our Woods are sourced, all of our resins, all of our glasses, everything!


Any of our extra things that we have like our leashes and our tie down straps and everything else like that, we make sure that it’s an American-made company.


What’s your favorite way to spend your free time?

Probably beaching it.  The summer is a very important thing to be in my family, to hang out at the beach and enjoy Michigan for the beauty that it does have in those three months that are just gorgeous and perfect.


What is your favorite part of living and working in Northern Michigan?

The community is definitely my favorite part of working here and living here.  The amount of people that I’ve met through business alone and the other small businesses that were created with and utilizing each other, blasting ideas off of each other, it’s family.  It’s something more than just trying to stride at this thing alone.  


It’s difficult to run a business.  One of the best things I’ve ever heard is 


“running a small business is like trying to change a tire on a car while it’s moving.”


That’s a really difficult thing and the more people you can have that can help out or been through those experiences, it’s priceless.  You can’t replace that and in this small community, everybody feels like they’re attached to you in one way or another.  I don’t know that I ever actually knew that I was going to be able to do it.  It was just kind of a garage hobby that I was doing for extra Christmas cash or vacation money.  


My daughter had asked for a paddle board and I built her one and I just got a lot of attention and that created, you know, the next one and the next one and the next one.  I greatly suffered for the first couple years.  While building homes for 40 hours a week and then building paddle boards for another 40 to 60 hours a week.  There was a moment in our family’s life where I was sat down by my wife, explaining to me that it’s not going to float like that anymore, we can’t do that.


So it was the “Do or Die” situation of, make the jump and see what happens.  It’s either go back to the job that you know secure and stable or try to do something that makes you happy 


The decision came upon I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t drive this into the absolute ground to know that I failed at it.  Everybody’s got a special thing to them.  Everybody’s got something that they just naturally are good at and they naturally are focused on.  Try to find something in that industry or in that ability, you’ll be a little bit happier and you’ll be better at it because you care about it.  Don’t just pick and choose what will get me by, because when you get older you’re going to be really mad that you went with what got me by rather than what made me happy.


Northern Michigan is an amazing environment to be in.  I don’t know how to sum it up.  The beauty of the things we take for granted like the sunsets.  It’s something so easy when you live up here to forget, that they’re there every night and they are gorgeous nine times out of ten.


The simplicity of sitting and watching them, the water, the trees, the natural resources. The Little Traverse Conservancy, they do an amazing job of having some of the finest trails in the world to walk on.  I’ve been all over America, I mean there’s some really cool national parks but almost every back road that you go on you’ll find one.  


During covid we tried a new trail every day, make it within like an hour drive or something like that.  There was like 42 within an hour drive and they’re beautiful Trails.  All of them are unique in their own little way, some through the swamp, some through the hills, some with giant lookouts that you didn’t even know there’s a valley there, that you could see so far on the beaches the sand, the water and the small lakes the Inland Lakes.  I’d go on and on and on and on and on.


There’s just so many different things about it.  One that’s become more popular in the last in 19 years that I know of that’s kind of been our go-to, we go to it every year multiple times is Good Harbor Bay.  First place I ever paddle boarded!  I can spend 16 hours a day there.  We’ll get there early in the morning and set up and have our lunches and you can have fires there and we’ll stay all night, until the sunset and past that, and the kids will be passed out in the sand and you know we’ll just enjoy it for everything that it’s worth.  


I’m Jason Thelen, Choose the North.