Nelund Helps To Launch Muskegon

June 21, 2002
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MUSKEGON — He knew there was a lot going on in Muskegon.

Gary Nelund just never realized how much was occurring until he became involved in a discussion group for young professionals with the Community Foundation of Muskegon County. His eyes opened when one of the sessions of the group, known as Next Generation, focused on the revitalization of downtown Muskegon.

Only then did he begin to fully appreciate the scope of the new investments flowing into Muskegon, with millions going into redeveloping downtown and ongoing efforts to make the community a center for fuel-cell energy research and development.

"There was a lot of stuff I didn't realize was going on in Muskegon," said Nelund, who now finds himself in the middle of helping to further the community's emerging renaissance.

Nelund, 32, joined the economic development agency Muskegon Area First on June 3 as director of technology initiatives, a role that has him running The Lakeshore Launch Pad, a business incubator that's a key element to the Muskegon Lakeshore SmartZone high-tech business and commercial park envisioned along the city's waterfront.

The position combined Nelund's background and education with his "passion to see Muskegon succeed," he said.

"This puts me right in the middle of everything that's going on in Muskegon," said Nelund, who previously spent nearly a year working as a planning management analyst for the Ottawa County Planning and Grants Department.

"It gets me on the ground floor of what's happening," Nelund said. "This is a position where I can make a difference."

In that position, Nelund handles a cross section of responsibilities that consist of marketing the business incubator to prospective tenants and acting as a landlord to the start-up businesses housed in the center, located in the basement of the Hume Office Building on Third Street downtown.

Muskegon Area First represents Nelund's second career stop following his 1999 graduation from Western Michigan University with a master's in public administration, a degree he earned over a five-year period while working full time.

Earning his master's eventually led Nelund to go to work for Ottawa County. But he quickly tired of the 45-minute drive to his job at the Ottawa County complex in West Olive and wanted to work in his hometown again.

A newspaper ad led him to apply for the position at Muskegon Area First to run The Lakeshore Launch Pad.

"It gets me back into Muskegon. It gets me excited and, hopefully, I can grow right along with Muskegon," Nelund said. "I kind of felt like a fish out of water working in Ottawa County. I just had this desire to get back into Muskegon. It's a great place to be and I feel more at home here."

A graduate of Mona Shores High School, Nelund is a self-described "political junky" who planned to go to law school after earning a bachelor's degree in political science in 1992 from Kalamazoo College.

The recession of the early 1990s changed those plans. Unable to find work in his field, and with law firms not hiring at the time because of the poor economy, Nelund took a job with Pro Gas Sales and Service, a Muskegon propane distributorship.

Nelund ended up staying there nine years, working his way up to office and credit manager, and beginning work in 1994 on his master's degree in public administration.

"There was nothing out there," he said. "I got in (at Pro Gas) there and it was a good place to work."

Two years after joining Pro Gas, Nelund enrolled in Western Michigan to pursue a career in public-sector management.

At Muskegon Area First, he will now play a key role in helping to build the technology sector that will benefit all aspects of Muskegon's economy.

"As the high-tech businesses in Muskegon emerge, all the other businesses will follow," Nelund said. "Everybody prospers from all of this."

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