No Need For New Direction

June 19, 2007
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Keep your eye on the prize. That would be the message to local agencies charged with staying on task when it comes to issues of cooperation and collaboration among the businesses, institutions and governmental units of the greater Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland area.

The business community looked at the formation of groups such as the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council and the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council as a possible way to erase artificial geographic barriers and as a means to encourage serious joint planning and cohesive economic development strategies. Now we find that the GVMC meetings are the stage for making sure that townships are protected from a movement in the state legislature to mandate consolidation of resources at the county level — a plan that does seem extreme at this point but one that identifies a need for serious discussion of united funding and budgeting efforts, at the very least. Metro Council voices should continue to offer alternatives to such measures, and work hard on a local level to make them happen without the seemingly inevitable state intervention.

Reviewing this spring's report issued by the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, and judging by recent patterns of prioritization evident within that group, we want to commend continuing efforts to create a "foundation for collaboration," while cautioning that some of the original focus encouraged by area businesses that supported the Alliance's establishment may be straying a bit.

The Alliance's unveiling of its "15 regional indicators" that merit "prioritization" include everything from "free and reduced-priced lunch recipients" and "closed beach days" to "teens not in school." Other hot-button topics include a handful of references to workforce-related issues such as educational attainment and self-employed professionals and, oh yes, did we mention voter participation?

Early presentations by the originators of the Alliance focused heavily on the need for encouraging cities, townships and urban planning organizations to use the Alliance's initial study work as a guide for local planning from a regional viewpoint. Jim Brooks, who remains a vital player in the Alliance's scheme of things, was correct in focusing on urban sprawl issues during the group's inception. "If we don't' control the sprawl, we'll become (Los Angeles) on the lake," he said in echoing national planning experts who looked at this area. "We must learn to grow together, (or) if we remain divided, we can all watch all that we've created slip away. The choice is ours."

It is about choice. Maybe it's the Alliance's recent addition of the project known as the Workforce Innovations in Regional Development (WIRED) project that has forced at least a superficial shift away from some of the core inspirations of the group that caught the eye of the business sector. WIRED is supported by a $15 million grant from the Department of Labor. Its focus is on education and job training. Other groups are fully capable of administering that need and have done so for quite some time. Again, it's a laudable endeavor — but a shift away from the perceived original intent of the group. And what happens when those grant funds are used up and no longer at hand?

The Business Journal urges a return to the basics now in order to prepare for a focus on long-term needs in the future.    

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