IT Council Finds The Right Place To Start

May 28, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — These days, Internet business is the wave of the future and more and more local companies are riding the tide. With so many local IT firms in the area, The Right Place Program has created the IT Council to service all technology-based companies in the West Michigan area.

Ray DeWinkle, vice president of The Right Place Program, said the mission of the council is to support the growth of companies in West Michigan whose core business offering is information technology software, hardware or services.

To fulfill its mission the council has brought in top executives from some of the area’s leading information technology firms. “There is a core of sophisticated IT talent here in West Michigan, whose depth would surprise most people,” added council vice chairman Keith Brophy, president of SageStone.

“The problem is, we’re one of the region’s best kept secrets. As a council we can help change that.”

Part of the fuel behind the formation of the council was the fact that The Right Place Program has a strong history of forming councils and the IT Council is just an extension of its experience in that area.

Secondly, DeWinkle said there has been a merging strength in the IT cluster today and there was a general need within the industry to form a council.

In fact, DeWinkle was reminded of a statement a leader in the IT industry made to him a year ago.

“He said that they really needed some sort of forum where the industry could come together for discussion and a way to receive feedback from people in the same industry that were experiencing similar problems or successes,” he said. “I had forgotten about that but it fits now.”

The council will help both in keeping some of the same firms involved and in attracting new firms into the cluster and also attracting clients to these firms to basically raise visibility of the industry.

“There are companies out there that are going out-of-state for IT experience when the resources and expertise is really right here, possibly even the office next door,” said DeWinkle. “There is a good (amount) of talent in the area; people just have to learn to shop at home.”

DeWinkle said he and his staff have come across 400 IT companies in the area, and they are still searching.

The council will manage five working groups of IT professionals it has developed for each of its five areas of strategic focus.

The areas include marketing, education/workforce development, networking, access to capital and facilities/infrastructure. Each working group is in the process of drafting the specific tactics it will pursue to fulfill the council’s strategic goals.

“Supporting the growth of the West Michigan IT industry is not only important for its own sake, but also because these firms provide a technology infrastructure that is critical to the continued development of other industries,” said DeWinkle.

With only one official meeting under its belt, the council has decided it would like to serve as an open forum for anyone involved in the IT industry who is interested in learning more about the field. That could include funding sources, start-up counseling or even job openings.

“I don’t see us becoming a talent bank for people to look for jobs but this will certainly get the word out that there are over 400 IT companies in the area where people can search for jobs,” said DeWinkle. “It will also be a way for one company to trade employment ideas with another.”

Strengthening the industry can lead to success for more firms.

“Our success, and the success of our customers hinges on the continued development of the West Michigan IT industry,” said Chris Davis, president of Trident Technology Inc. and IT Council chairman. “We can help facilitate that growth by working with The Right Place Program to improve information sharing among our peers, our access to capital and talented professionals, and our marketing of this industry.”

In the future, DeWinkle said, the council membership may be altered due to changes in the market and changes in the industry.

He also hopes to form collaborative efforts with other councils and IT groups in the state.

“We are not competing with, say, the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce or any other IT organization out there. We hope to join with those councils and put our resources together so we aren’t duplicating any efforts,” added DeWinkle.

“The formation of the council really takes a lot of time and effort on the parts of business people out in the IT industry and they have dedicated themselves to this project. With their help and the help of The Right Place Program and the community we are going to see this council grow further and further.”

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