Holland Eyes New Leaders Duties

September 19, 2003
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HOLLAND — Changes in how economic development is handled locally, combined with new opportunities, spurred Chris Byrnes' decision to leave the position for which he was groomed and brought to Holland.

Byrnes steps aside at the end of the month as president of the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce and Holland Economic Development Corp. (HEDCOR) to pursue economic development from a different perspective.

At a time when HEDCOR's role is undergoing a major transition through the formation of a new regional economic development agency covering the Holland-Zeeland area, known as Lakeshore Advantage, Byrnes decided to make a change himself. His own interests in assisting economic development projects and start-up businesses has "grown immeasurably" of late, he said, while HEDCOR's future role remains undecided and under study as Lakeshore Advantage establishes its own identity and direction.

That led Byrnes to conclude that his "passion" for helping to push specific economic development projects is best practiced from the private sector.

"Quite frankly, I'm not the kind of person to remain in a position when I'm not going to put all of my talents, skills and abilities to use," Byrnes said. "A lot of the new initiatives I see there, as far as economic development, can be done in the private sector, so that's what I'm doing."

In Byrnes' place, the Holland Area Chamber's board of directors appointed Vice President Jane Clark as interim president. Clark joined the 1,400-member chamber in 1989 as membership director and was named to the No. 2 position three years ago.

"Her experience is deep and she will ensure that our rock solid and service-oriented chamber team remains effective. We couldn't ask for a better interim president," said Marcia Bishop, chairwoman of the chamber's board of directors and superintendent of the Holland Public Schools.

The Holland Area Chamber will not embark on an immediate search for a successor to Byrnes, as the organization enter into a process to look at its own role in the community in relation to the formation of Lakeshore Advantage and the pending transformation of HEDCOR, Bishop said.

As all three organizations evolve in the coming months, the goal is to establish complementary, rather than competing, directions and roles for each.

For the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce, that requires "an internal review of what we are, what our core business really is and what it ought to be in the future," Bishop said. "It is a time for us to really take a look at who we are and what we can be."

Byrnes will continue working with the chamber from the outside on a variety of specific projects. His decision to step down as chamber president is understandable, given the changes afoot in HEDCOR and the creation of Lakeshore Advantage, Bishop said.

"There are some strategic re-directions in the works. Nearly all of the chamber's current programming will continue, for example, but the chamber along with HEDCOR have helped plant the seeds for the eventual creation of a new economic development organization for our community," Bishop said. "Given Chris's enthusiasm and skill in the economic development arena, it only seems fitting for him to pursue a course which would keep him more connected to the area he loves. Our chamber will miss his drive and dedication. Chris helped keep our chamber moving forward."

Now in the formative stages, Lakeshore Advantage came about after HEDCOR entered a strategic-planning process more than a year ago to determine the organization's future. Founded in the 1960s, HEDCOR owns two large industrial parks in the Holland area and is facing its own transformation in an evolving economic development field in order to put more focus on other needs such as business retention and recruitment and work force development.

That process broadened early this year when HEDCOR leaders began talking with their counterparts in Zeeland about formation of a new organization that would assume those economic development duties that are best handled from a regional perspective.

At the same time, the City of Holland has increased its role in economic development within the city.

Byrnes joined the chamber as vice president in 1998, coming from Niles. Under long-time former President Lou Hallacy, he took on an increasingly larger role in the organization under a succession plan that eventually had Byrnes taking over as president when Hallacy retired in the spring of 2000.

Byrnes, in serving dual roles as president of the chamber and HEDCOR, is credited with expanding the Lakeshore 504 U.S. Small Business Administration lending program and increasing the chamber's collaboration with several organizations.

His departure gives HEDCOR's directors, as they plan the economic development agency's future direction, "some flexibility on what it needs for staffing in the future," Byrnes said. 

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