Holland Developers Re Examine Roles

September 26, 2003
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HOLLAND — The resignation of the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce’s president has come at a time when the roles of area business and economic development organizations were already entering a new era.

Chris Byrnes’ departure now brings to the forefront questions of how those organizations, including the new economic development agency Lakeshore Advantage, will co-exist and what responsibilities each will handle.

Before mounting a search for a successor to Byrnes, who leaves this week, the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce intends to first examine its role in the community and how it needs to evolve in relation to the formation of Lakeshore Advantage.

What the chamber ultimately becomes hinges to some degree on the future direction and roles of Lakeshore Advantage, now in its infancy, and the long-standing Holland Economic Development Corp., or HEDCOR.

The task ahead for leaders of all three organizations is to set down directions that would have each complementing the other and avoiding redundancy and duplication of efforts.

“We are all at a crossroads,” said Marcia Bishop, the immediate past chairwoman of the Holland Area Chamber’s board of directors and a member of the group’s executive committee. “Each of us are beginning to examine our own core areas as we look at the whole area, not only in economic development but support for business and industry.”

Byrnes served in a dual role as president of both the Holland Area Chamber and HEDCOR.

For the Holland Area Chamber, his departure as president will trigger a period of strategic planning “for us to really take a look at who we are and what we can be,” said Bishop, the superintendent of the Holland Public Schools.

“It gives us real opportunity,” she said.

But a direction has to come first for Lakeshore Advantage, an organization whose formation stems from HEDCOR’s earlier strategic planning. Seeing the potential to become more effective in economic development on a regional front, HEDCOR directors began talking in January with their counterparts in Zeeland about areas where they could collaborate.

That led to the formation of Lakeshore Advantage, which formally incorporated on Aug. 27. The idea is to identify, handle and better coordinate those economic development activities that are best done on a regional level, enabling the region to become more aggressive in recruiting and retaining employers in an era of rapid economic change.

Lakeshore Advantage’s 14-member board of directors, consisting of business leaders in Holland and Zeeland, plans to take a deliberate approach to determining its role, Chairman Jack Marquis said.

While Lakeshore Advantage directors don’t have a specific timeframe, Byrnes’ resignation as president of the Holland chamber and HEDCOR requires them to accelerate the process.

“Obviously the situation changed a bit,” said Marquis, managing partner of Warner Norcross & Judd in Holland. “We recognize this process is going to have to get moving.”

Marquis emphasized the need for Lakeshore Advantage to define a role that complements that of HEDCOR, which for nearly 40 years has led economic development activities in Holland.

“We don’t want to interfere with very positive things that are going on in the economic development arena,” he said.

All of this leads HEDCOR, founded in the 1960s to spur industrial growth in the Holland area, to taking on a new role and mission.

When they began a new strategic-planning process some time ago, HEDCOR directors were looking at moving away from an industrial development focus in order to put more emphasis on areas such as work force development, grant writing for infrastructure upgrades, and employer recruitment and retention, particularly in industries with high-tech and knowledge workers.

While HEDCOR, which owns two large industrial parks in Holland and is down to about 100 acres of available land, tweaked its business plan three years ago to concentrate more on those areas, it remains “substantially focused” on industrial development, Chairman Don Heeringa said.

Heeringa, the chairman of Trendway Corp. who also serves as a director on the Lakeshore Advantage board, sees the present situation as providing the organization a chance to redefine itself starting with “a clean sheet of paper.”

“There’s a lot more we think we can do,” Heeringa said of the evolving role of HEDCOR and formation of Lakeshore Advantage. “There’s a lot more broader form of economic development work to be done that hasn’t been done before.”

Partly pushing the changes are the evolving dynamics of economic development today.

One general view is that the Holland-Zeeland area, with a manufacturing work force that’s twice the national average and has taken a hard hit in the past two years from the devastating downturn in the office furniture industry, needs to broaden its economic base.

The region needs to do more to appeal to the high-tech business sector and “creative class” that will define future economies, said Kurt Van Koevering, president of the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce board of directors and publisher of the weekly newspaper Zeeland Record.

“We cannot rely on the old standard that we’ve had in this community,” Van Koevering said. “We realize we can’t have a dependency like we’ve had in the past like automotive and furniture.”           

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