Yes To Regional Economic Planning

January 27, 2003
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Regional planning and inter-governmental cooperation has been an influential chapter in Kent County history with origin in the organization of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council. A similar group founded in Ottawa County, the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, has served to heighten awareness of the economic ramifications of cooperative partnerships throughout the West Michigan region. A piece of that drive is aided this week as the Holland Economic Development Corp and Zeeland Community Development Corp announce plans to outline cooperative ventures, regardless of governmental boundaries.

Like The Right Place Program, the private sector rather than government fuels the effort, but it provides a bridge for those in the public sector. The Right Place Program President Birgit Klohs since last summer has been initiating such strategic plans between economic development officers not just in West Michigan but also across the state. Sister publication West Michigan Commercial Development & Real Estate Quarterly notes those alliances in its February issue (on newsstands this week), enumerating the regional benefits which domino from any one city’s success.

The Holland-Zeeland area is particularly affected by current trends in the office furniture industry. Zeeland Chamber of Commerce officials last year told the Business Journal the effects of Herman Miller layoffs in particular had been devastating.

It has been nearly five years since the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce forged cooperative agreements with the Holland Chamber, as well as the Detroit Chamber of Commerce. Even while such cooperative programs are becoming more prevalent, the strategic and necessary work is underscored here, given recent complaints about cooperative partnerships for area convention and tourism agencies.

The greatest concern, anywhere in Michigan, is impact of the 2001-2002 economic downturn and its continued impact on state funds and funding. As business begins its recovery, it is critical to have such agreements in place for any group or area to benefit. In a time of more limited funds, every dollar counts, and pooling it with others provides far greater opportunities for success.

The Holland-Zeeland arrangement is fundamental for the directors’ recognition that the business environment is global — and increasingly competitive.

Even small businesses which have achieved international standards recognize the value of ideas, from within and especially from outside a given industry. To suggest that only insiders of a particular industry know well enough how to construct future operating plans does not bode well for that future. In this regard, we pause to salute Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s plan to recruit business executives to assist — and break paradigms — in state offices.

Some, especially in the public sector, fear the “risk” of such partnerships. Worse would be to take no risk at all.           

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