Infrastructure Is Key To Attracting Development

July 25, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Dedicated employees and a good product are important to a business, but without a road leading to the facility, electricity to power it and running water, the business can't function.

Don Stypula, executive director of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, said many businesses will not consider a site for industrial development without infrastructure such as roads, public transportation, water, sewer, electricity — even communications and amenities such as parks and green space.

"All of those play a role in determining the attractiveness of a particular community for economic developers," he said.

Stypula said companies looking in the area will work with The Right Place Inc. or other economic development organizations in order to find a location for their facility.

"They are very much aware of those areas that have adequate capacity in waste and sewer," he said.

Susan Jackson, business development manager for The Right Place, said companies have many components to review when searching for a location.

"When a company's looking at a location, they're looking at a ton of things," she said. "There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, so to speak."

The main pieces are infrastructure, an available work force and local incentives such as tax abatements. When it comes to infrastructure, companies want both convenient utilities and transportation opportunities.

"They want it somewhere in the vicinity, as opposed to being in the middle of a cornfield and not available to them," Jackson said. "For many companies, they're looking at accessibility both for their workers and for raw materials coming in and finished materials going out."

Transportation is a major issue when considering a location, Stypula said.

"We work here at Metro Council to integrate all of the region on the various forms of transportation," he said.

Getting people from their homes to work and back is especially important for companies that have entry-level positions, Stypula said.

The council has two meetings a month — a technical committee and a policy committee — to address transportation issues in the area.

"They have a lot of decisions to make," Stypula said. "Those decisions have a major impact on transportation here and in the entire region, and that, in turn, has a significant effect on the overall business attractiveness of the overall metro area."

Besides transportation, the infrastructure can make or break a location.

"Those are big and a critical component that businesses look at especially when they are planning an expansion or when they are looking at coming here in a new endeavor," he said.

To invite industry to an area, Stypula said, communities need to be aware of what components companies are looking for.

"It's the job of those communities — the utility departments in the communities — that they plan ahead years in advance to make the improvements and (create) infrastructure to make sure there is dependable water and sewage capacity," he said.

Cities like Grand Rapids can market existing infrastructure, he said, while outlying cities and townships need to consider their future, including communication systems.

"No way in a global economy is a company going to purposely locate in an area that doesn't have that component," he said. "They couldn't compete."        

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