Finding A Suzable Replacement

January 12, 2007
Print
Text Size:
A A

GRAND RAPIDS — While downtown Grand Rapids has developed economically under her watch, Susan Shannon has developed professionally during that time — so much so that the city economic development director will leave her post early next month to advance to a similar position in Seattle. There she will direct a staff of 24 and have an annual operating budget of $12 million.

Susan is a remarkable woman. She has stepped up to any number of challenges that we've laid at her feet," said City Manager Kurt Kimball.

Shannon left the city's Parking Services Department to lead the YWCA, but returned 11 years ago as the city's business advocate. The city felt that she worked so successfully with developers, who were renovating dozens of buildings downtown and in nearby districts, that she was promoted to economic development director about six years ago.

Her department is small, just herself and three others, and only drew $245,000 this fiscal year from the city's $119 million general fund budget.

"She graduated from business advocate after demonstrating her prowess in matters of economic development to the position of economic development director. She is very talented, and she has done more than anyone else has in recent memory in our organization to enhance economic development in our city," said Kimball.

"She has been fundamentally important to this city and its economic development goals."

Renaissance Zones, brownfields, industrial tax abatements and other incentives are integral parts of Shannon's tool box that helped build the city. Those items will remain with her replacement, of course. But the city hasn't decided yet whether that will be another individual or if it will contract the job to an outside agency.

"One option is to contract work out to the likes of a

Right Place
, and I think that is an option. But I'm not necessarily excluding any options at this point in time," said Kimball, the city's longest-serving manager and Shannon's boss.

Kimball said he would explore all the alternatives available to him. And he

reminded the Business Journal that the city contracted out the environmental services director position in 1994 to Earth Tech, an arrangement that is still in effect, so a precedent to do that does exist.

"I haven't made a conclusion on that. I do think that it's a full-time job, and I do think it's an important enough job to have someone who will have great loyalty to the city of Grand Rapids and understand our unique challenges and needs," said Kimball.

Kimball said Daniel Oegema would be a logical choice to direct the department on an interim basis. Oegema, an economic development coordinator, handles many of the tax abatement requests from manufacturers looking to expand operations. Kimball also said Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong, who represents the city in many development deals, would also be an excellent candidate — if an acting director is named.

"I haven't concluded whether or not there is a compelling need for an interim person. I'll be deciding that when Susan leaves," said Kimball.

When Shannon leaves she will get a bigger salary and a larger office in Seattle, and she will be reuniting with her architect daughter, Carrie Ericson, who works there. Shannon said her visits to see her daughter led her to become impressed with the city and its people.

"When the job came open, it seemed like the right thing to do right now," she said.

Shannon said what she was most satisfied with over the past 11 years was seeing many of the city's vacant older buildings being renovated and filling with tenants.

"To see those buildings come alive again and be reutilized, and then stimulate all kinds of other economic development, I think has been something that I'm very proud of," she said.

Her biggest disappointment?

"I think we still struggle with downtown retail and I'm really disappointed about the bookstore (River Bank Books & Music) closing," she said.

Believe it or not, Shannon said her new position came from a New Year's resolution she made last year. Like many others, she resolved to lose weight, exercise more, and be nicer to people. But she also pledged to do something that most never do, and that was to take another big kick at the can.

"I made a New Year's resolution last year that I just wanted, at this stage in my life, one more professional adventure, and that's what got me going. None of my children live here so that has opened up the door, as well," she said.

"It's not that I'm leaving because I don't love what I do. I do, and that makes it hard. I just wanted one more chance to get out of my comfort zone, and that was my New Year's resolution."    

Recent Articles by David Czurak

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus