WIRED Grant Spurs Initiative

September 29, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The first of 12 initiatives in the $15 million Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor is underway, with partnerships between The Right Place Inc., Lakeshore Advantage and Grand Rapids Community College.

InnovationWORKS, administered by The Right Place, has been approved by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth and has an advisory council — chaired by David Van Andel, chairman and CEO of the Van Andel Institute — under development. The council will include members from throughout the seven counties included in the grant, including early appointee Brian Walker, president and CEO of Herman Miller Inc.

The initiative has four components: commercialization infrastructure; a design council that will involve the partnership of Lakeshore Advantage; innovation forums; and innovation curriculums through a partnership with GRCC.

“We think there really is a continuum of assisting innovative ideas, both from existing and potentially new companies that need a host of assistance that we really want to help them with,” said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place.

Klohs said that in addition to assisting companies in developing products and processes, the project will also help teach more about innovation itself.

“We also believe there is a component of innovation that can be taught like operational excellence,” she said. “It has to become a part of our DNA in the region like we’ve made operational excellence part of our DNA.”

The

Right Place
has the “robust methodology” in place to facilitate the four components, Klohs said.

Kathleen Hoyle has been hired as a project manager, and Ernst & Young is doing a benchmarking study to determine what geographic areas have been successful in innovation and how they have done it.

“If they do it well, how do they do it well, what are the pieces and parts?” Klohs asked.

The study will help the area to determine what resources it needs to properly aid companies in innovation. Klohs said the project is adding a new element to The Right Place.

“It’s like starting a new business,” she said. “We will have something in place here that becomes as robust as a lot of the other economic development initiatives that we’ve started.”

Though a part of The Right Place, Klohs stressed that InnovationWORKS is larger than the economic development organization and needs to address the issues affecting the entire region.

“It really becomes much more driven by what the regional needs are,” she said. “We’re getting input from a lot of different people in the region.”    

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