New GH Mayor Welcomes Businesses

November 18, 2003
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GRAND HAVEN — Creating a welcoming environment for business is among the top priorities for Grand Haven’s new mayor, who wants to look for ways to encourage new business investment and expansion in town.

Roger Bergman, a small business owner who took office last week after his Nov. 5 election, sees a need for city hall to reach out much more to the business community to retain and create jobs across all economic sectors. His message to the entrepreneurs and businesses is: “You’re welcome here. Let’s work together to find ways to get you either to start up, (or) get you to grow and get you to stay.”

“It’s more of a mindset and an attitude,” Bergman said. “We need to find ways to encourage small business in the Grand Haven area and to make them feel welcome in Grand Haven and (see) if we can help them.”

In that spirit of cooperation, Bergman wants to be proactive on business issues. He wants to meet regularly with corporate leaders in town in order to keep up on issues facing local employers and work “hand-in-hand” with The Chamber of Commerce in Grand Haven on economic development and supporting large and small businesses, as well as working through bureaucratic issues such as dealing with city zoning ordinances and codes and infrastructure, seeking tax abatements on business investments and pursuing state grants for businesses.

Bergman wants to look at how the city can use tax incentives to lure new business investment, a view that’s in contrast to his predecessor, Ed Lystra, who regularly opposed tax abatements for industry.

Bergman cites Holland’s use of brownfield redevelopment tax breaks to help accommodate a condominium development just north of downtown, which is seeking to build a residential base, and the approval of a rarely used tax abatement for personal property that helped to lure a Walker automotive supplier to buy a former Herman Miller factory that had been vacant for several months.

He points to an industrial neighborhood on Grand Haven’s northeast side that’s dotted with vacant and underutilized industrial properties where the city can use tax incentives to attract new investments and spur job creation.

In forging stronger ties with the chamber of commerce, which handles economic development and retention in the area under contract with local communities, Bergman seeks to build a bridge between city hall and the business community that can help to maintain open lines of communication.

“We need to let the chamber of commerce do its job,” said Bergman, the owner of Borr’s Bootery stores in downtown Grand Haven and Holland, who served two years on the Grand Haven City Council prior to his election as mayor. “They need to be our lightning rod with industry.”

A tight public-private partnership is “absolutely critical” to effectively supporting employers locally, chamber President Joy Gaasch said, especially in the current era of global competition and a tough business environment. She welcomes the tone coming from the new mayor.

“The pieces are all in place for us to take a very proactive approach on issues that may arise in a very aggressive fashion,” Gaasch said. “We certainly would actively pursue a plan to improve the manufacturing and our business climate in our community. We really need to work together to develop a strategy.”

On the front burner for the city in terms of business and economic development is revitalizing and improving downtown and the redevelopment of a former industrial area along the south channel of the Grand River on the city’s north end, a project known as GrandWater.

In downtown, Bergman believes the city needs to work closer with merchants and property owners to plan improvements for the central business district and transform it into the retail, commercial and cultural heart of the community. An Ann Arbor consulting firm the city retained earlier this year is presently studying future upgrades for downtown as part of a broader effort to plan the business district’s future.

Downtown’s appearance and vitality, Bergman believes, “is a reflection on the community.” He hopes to rally business and community leaders around building it up.

That includes trying to jumpstart an initiative first proposed two years ago, known as the Heart of Grand Haven, to create a downtown investment group that would acquire buildings, improve them, and then lease or sell them to tenants that fit with the business district’s long-term objectives. Doing so would emulate a highly successful initiative in Holland that was a key factor in that community’s downtown revitalization and resurgence that began in the late 1980s and continues today.

Bergman hopes to get the Heart of Grand Haven initiative off the ground “with the city 100 percent behind it.”           

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