A Broader Economic Perspective

January 27, 2003
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Identifying the right areas for collaboration, and putting the right structure in place to handle the task, is the key toward future cooperation in the economic development arena for the Holland-Zeeland area.

A steering committee consisting of representatives from both communities will spend the next few months formulating a proposal for greater collaboration, either through creation of a new economic development agency or cooperative alliances between existing entities.

Success depends on finding the right issues to address regionally, what exactly to leave to the local level, and then formulating a “workable” model in which to proceed, said John Van Haitsma, past chairman of the Zeeland Community Development Corp.

“The key is going to be if there’s a common mission for what an organization is to be like,” said Van Haitsma, the vice president for human resources at Zeeland-based Gentex Corp. “What we’re saying is we really have a wonderful thing here. If we can make it better, we ought to be doing that.”

The drive for more regional unity in economic development comes from conversations held over the past few months between leaders of the Holland Economic Development Corp. (HEDCOR) and the Zeeland Community Development Corp.

Representatives between the two groups are in agreement that there are benefits to tackling economic development from a broader perspective.

The result is the formation of an ad-hoc organization that will assemble an advisory committee made up of representatives from both communities that have a stake in economic development. From there, organizers will form a smaller steering committee that will draft a proposal for future consideration by the advisory committee.

Serving on the ad-hoc organization are Van Haitsma, HEDCOR Chairman Don Heeringa, and Rich Lievense, also of HEDCOR. Heeringa is chairman of Trendway Corp. and Lievense is the CEO of The Bank of Holland.

The effort will look at creating an agency or collaboration that is private sector driven with public sector involvement, that focuses on economic development and retention and recruitment of employers and is “genuinely non-political,” and where “integrity and fairness should mark all activities.”

As the area grows in an increasingly competitive and global business environment, improving ties between Holland and Zeeland on economic development simply makes sense, Van Haitsma said. Businesses looking to locate a new facility in a region rarely care about political or geographic boundaries, he said.

“Nobody cares if it’s in a city or township. You’re looking at the economics of the area,” Van Haitsma said. “We should really speak with one voice promoting the benefits West Michigan has.”

The steering committee will work with the Riverview Group of Holland to formulate its proposal. The Riverview Group is a private planning organization that consists of business leaders and helped to push numerous revitalization efforts in downtown Holland over the years.

The Riverview Group’s Greg Holcombe expects to see a proposal presented within three months that outlines how HEDCOR and the ZCDC can better collaborate on economic development in the Holland-Zeeland area.

“Exactly how to do it is where the question is,” Holcombe said. “There are all kinds of opportunities. But how do we best decide what are the opportunities of an areawide approach?”           

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