Communities Conference
Examines Collaboration

June 5, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Two keynote speakers and nine sessions that cover a wide range of cooperative efforts will mark this year’s version of the 14th Annual Growing Communities Conference put on by the Grand Valley Metro Council.

The event takes place from 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Grand Valley State University Eberhard Center at 301 W. Fulton St.

“Attendance is starting to pick up and the speakers have been confirmed,” said Don Stypula, GVMC executive director last week.

Philip Power, president of The Center for Michigan, will get the conference underway with the morning keynote address. His remarks will encourage people to use his public policy research hub as a clearinghouse to discuss state politics. His hope is to get people to open their minds to the issues, instead of rigidly adhering to the same default political position on every matter.

Power started The Center for Michigan in Ann Arbor after nearly four decades in the news business as founder, owner and chairman of HomeTown Communications Network, a chain of suburban Detroit newspapers. Power recently sold the business to Gannett Inc., a national news corporation.

John Parr, director of the Alliance for Regional Stewardship in Denver, will give the luncheon keynote address. He will discuss how governments have successfully collaborated, and what effect regionalism has had on citizens.

Parr lectures in the Graduate School of Public Affairs of the University of Colorado in Denver, and has previously taught at Harvard, MIT, UCLA and the University of Denver.

“This year, we’re going to be looking at partnerships that have come from the conferences,” said Andy Bowman, director of the Council’s land-use planning section.

The theme of the conference is Prospering Through Partnerships, and the nine seminars on tap for Thursday will certainly try to get that point across. Here is a summary of the nine:

  • A Collaborations Tour: United Growth of Kent County will offer a look at some of the collaborative efforts underway in the county.

  • Greenways and Greenbacks: The West Michigan Strategic Alliance will point out that how the region responds to economic and environmental matters will determine whether the area will achieve prosperity.

  • Housing Our Workforce: Members of the Workforce Housing Committee of the Home & Building Association of Greater Grand Rapids will discuss their efforts to find housing for those in need.

  • Kalamazoo Promise Panel: Officials of the Kalamazoo Public Schools will reveal how the free college-education program came about and where it is headed.

  • Lessons from the Louisville-Jefferson County Merger: Joan Riehm, deputy mayor of the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, will talk about the money saved and the efficiencies created from the nation’s most recent merger between a city and a county.

  • The Power of One: Jackson City Manager William Ross and Raymond Snell, Blackman Township Supervisor, will discuss their agreement to share services.

  • Reaching Consensus in Land-Use Disputes: David Gruber, of the Dispute Resolution Center of Michigan, will talk about some successful approaches that have led to cooperation on land-use issues.

  • Regionalizing Transportation Services: Metro Council Transportation Director Abed Itani will explain how the organization has used federal and state grants to grow services in the metropolitan planning region.

  • Universities Partner on Land Use: Dr. Soji Adelaja of MSU and Dr. Rich Jelier of GVSU will discuss how their respective universities became involved with land policy.

The Metro Council, which has held the annual day-long event for developers, land-use planners, engineers and public officials since 1993, cancelled the conference last summer due to budget constraints. At the time, the council was facing a deficit of $258,000 for the next fiscal year and the conference was shelved.

But by September, enough expenses were cut and more transportation funds were found so the event could be held. This conference, though, will cost the Metro Council $9,000 less than last year’s event, or $18,000 in all.

The council’s Public Information and Education Committee was behind the move for a less expensive event. GVSU offered its location to the council at a drastically reduced rate. The Michigan Department of Transportation and the Urban Cooperation Board, a coalition of cities in the county, decided to help fund the event.

“We’re very excited about the support we’ve gotten from the business community for sponsorships,” said Stypula.

The conference costs $85 to attend, a fee that includes refreshments. Contact GVMC Director of Human Resources and Administration Gayle McCrath at (616) 776-7613 or at mccrathg@gvmc.org to make a reservation.    

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