Grand Haven Has A Grip On Gaasch
GRAND HAVEN — The waterfront helped. So did the diverse, growing local economy.
But the clincher for Joy Gaasch came the day she visited Grand Haven a year ago to interview for the position of executive director at the Association of Commerce and Industry.
The early spring day was sunny and warm. Flowers were beginning to sprout around downtown. Soon after arriving in town that day, Gaasch knew it was a place where she could move and work.
“It makes such a wonderful impression. You think, ‘Boy, I’d like to be part of this community,’” said Gaasch, who eventually was offered and accepted the top job at the ACI.
The organization serves as the umbrella group for the Grand Haven Chamber of Commerce, Grand Haven/Spring Lake Area Visitors Bureau and an economic development arm. Gaasch, an Alpena native with a diverse professional background, began as the ACI’s executive director May 1, 2000.
The 54-year-old Gaasch came to Grand Haven from Cadillac, where she served five years as head of the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce. While Gaasch was not seeking to leave Cadillac, she decided to inquire abut the ACI position after attending classes at the Institute for Organization Management with Andy Bowen, the then-executive director of the ACI who was leaving for a new job.
After a “lot of soul-searching,” she decided to apply for the job. Drawing her to Grand Haven was an organization that was structured similarly to what she was developing in Cadillac, and a community that’s situated close to the growing Grand Rapids metropolitan area and enjoys a diverse economy with thriving manufacturing, retail, service and tourism sectors.
“It offers a very well-rounded package for people to live,” she said.
Oh, and there’s the waterfront, too — a community amenity Gaasch said she cannot go without, not matter where she lives.
“There’s so much potential. The natural resources that we have here are unparalleled to any other place in Michigan,” said Gaasch, an avid sail-boater. “It’s something that sets the community apart.”
Gaasch began her career working for her parents’ heating and plumbing business in Alpena. She later joined Alpena Power Co., a small electric utility where Gaasch spent 13 years, starting as an administrative assistant and working her way up to community development director.
She left the power company for Bay City, where she took a position as executive director of the Bay County Growth Alliance, a regional economic development agency she ran for five years before moving on to what she calls the opportunity of a lifetime.
Gaasch was recruited to become development director at the Weidner Center in Green Bay, Wisc., a new performing arts center. There she worked with performers such as Beverly Sills, Itzhak Perlman and Harry Belafonte.
“It was of those experiences you just couldn’t say ‘no’ to,” said Gaasch, a lover of the arts. “You just couldn’t pass it up.”
Gaasch left the Weidner Center after a year and a half and did economic development consulting work in the Green Bay area before returning to Michigan to take the position in Cadillac.
Gaasch says she was drawn to the economic development profession because she enjoys working directly with entrepreneurs and businesses and trying to help them become successful. She also enjoys playing an active professional role in the community, and plans to become more involved on a personal level in Grand Haven.
Since coming to Grand Haven, Gaasch has worked to increase awareness and understanding of the Association of Commerce and Industry’s role in the community, and has sought to communicate more with the organization’s 600 members. The ACI has also begun evaluating all of its programs and services as it seeks to increase its membership.
“We’re look at everything that we do and how we can do it better,” Gaasch said. “The only way people are going to become members of this organization is if they see value.”
While she’s moved around often in her career, Gaasch sees herself putting down roots in Grand Haven and perhaps retiring there. The mother of two adult children, a son, Timothy, and daughter, Amy, Gaasch is in the process of buying a house just south of town, which she’ll share with her two Golden retrievers, Ginger and Boomer.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” she said.