GH Chamber Searches For Economic Leader

April 8, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — The Chamber of Commerce hopes to hire a new economic development chief as soon as possible to succeed Karen Benson, who’s leaving at the end of the month to become an executive at Grand Haven Bank.

The Chamber plans to advertise the opening immediately and hopes to at least identify a candidate for the position by the time Benson leaves, ending more than 16 years as head of economic development efforts in the Grand Haven-Spring Lake area.

“It’s a critical piece of what we do. We need to fill that position as quickly, and with the right person, as possible,” chamber President Joy Gaasch said.

The Chamber will conduct a search for a new vice president of economic development through ads in regional and national trade and business, as well as local, publications.

Benson will become vice president of business development for Grand Haven Bank, where she will work to increase the 7-year-old bank’s visibility in the community and develop new customer accounts. She starts there on May 1.

Benson was not looking for a career change when Grand Haven Bank contacted her earlier this year. After considering the move, Benson decided to pursue it with “excitement and sorrow” — excitement because of the new professional challenge the position holds, sorrow because it’s hard to leave the organization where she’s worked for so long, she said.

“I just finally decided it was time for a change and a new opportunity,” Benson said.

At The Chamber, Benson has been responsible for business retention, expansion, relocation and recruitment, primarily in the manufacturing sector. She also serves as director of the local Small Business Development Center office housed at The Chamber and has been involved in the planning for the City of Grand Haven’s North End Redevelopment Project, a major initiative to redevelop a run-down, former industrial neighborhood along the Grand River.

“Karen has been a fantastic asset to the members, volunteers and staff of The Chamber,” Gaasch said.

Benson joined The Chamber, formerly known as the Association of Commerce and Industry, in 1989. She came to Grand Haven in 1985 as executive director of the former Northwest Ottawa County Economic and Industrial Development Corp., which merged with the ACI in 1989.

Through her position at Grand Haven Bank, Benson will remain active in the community. She will also spend her waning weeks at The Chamber helping to prepare for a smooth transition to a new economic development director, winding down ongoing projects and “planning out the strategic focus of what happens next” for the organization.

“Things are just going to move full-speed ahead. This organization has everything going for it right now,” she said.    

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