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October 15, 2007
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The West Michigan Strategic Alliance drew a packed house of nearly 400 to its 2007 WIRED West Michigan Conference last Thursday at Steelcase University.

The region is starting to see results from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development program, with a dozen initiatives including WorkKeys, the Innovation Curriculum and an expansion to programs like SOURCE and West Michigan TEAM.

“West Michigan is setting an example of regionalism,” said Emily DeRocco, assistant secretary of the Department of Labor and founder of WIRED. “This region already had a strong regional identity, and it’s benefiting from that. But that doesn’t mean you can declare victory.”

The pillar of WIRED is development focused on labor sheds, not political boundaries. This idea of regionalism brought the DOL to the table — it has rarely served as an economic development tool or as a direct partner with development agencies. But in the past five years, the agency has seen a dramatic shift in employer attitudes.

“It used to be that employers would locate to an area based on incentives,” DeRocco said. “What tax breaks they could get, infrastructure and how much free land they could get. Now our surveys show that availability of a skilled workforce is the most important consideration in choosing a location.”

This mirrors economist Richard Florida’s Cool City and Creative Class theories, which state that communities that can attract talented workers will be the most successful and was the basis for Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Cool City grant program.

“But the truth is that only a handful of areas in the country can survive by attracting people,” she said. “Most need to figure out how to produce and retain skilled workers themselves.”

The DOL now has 38 WIRED regions nationwide, each parceling out $15 million in funding toward sustainable economic and workforce development programs. (The DOL uses cooler names for the regions, namely the West Michigan Workforce Innovations Lab, California Innovation Corridor and Pennsylvania Wall Street West.) This has fit neatly into the West Michigan Strategic Alliance’s model toward a regional West Michigan.

“WIRED is about help,” said Greg Northrup, alliance executive director. “Help to identify skill sets and help to attain them.”

Cascade University founder Fred Keller, fresh off the announcement that his new corporate headquarters had received the coveted platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, said during his introduction of the governor, the event’s keynote speaker, that the region is determined to be the new model.

Among other things, Granholm characterized the recent budget standoff as “drawing a line in the sand to see what was important to Michigan.”

“We needed $8.5 billion,” she said. “We could have just cut all the funding to universities. … We could decide it’s a good thing to have classes of 38 in schools at the same time we’re upping our standards. … Or we can be a state that invests in its people.”

**The potential redevelopment of the 15-acre Harbor Island property directly to the north of the Grand Landing development in Grand Haven has potential for a bit of controversy in the coming year. A recent story cited Grand Landing’s intentions to partner with the city to turn that property, also known as Old Kent Pond, into a 200-slip marina, athletic fields and nature preserve. According to City Manager Pat McGinnis¸ the city is in no hurry to commit to any plans of that nature, although there is a solid chance that it will.

“We don’t have anything on the table right now,” said McGinnis. “We’ve had some conversations with different groups, and it’s going to be a while before it all gets figured out.”

Grand Landing’s marina plan is definitely a possibility, McGinnis said, but there are other suggestions for the property and competing proposals for marinas further down the boardwalk. Any conversation must also include the local environmental interests who prefer the land not be developed at all.

“Our next step is a visioning process,” he said. “It’s been studied three times since the mid-’80s, but a lot has changed since the last one. We’re going to budget for that this year.”

**Lakeshore Advantage and the Holland Young Professionals will kick off the Lakeshore e2e Series this Wednesday night at the Lakeshore Advantage offices at the Colonial Clock Building (201 W. Washington Ave.) in downtown Zeeland. 

Transmatic Manufacturing’s P.J. Thompson will speak on “Next Generation Leadership” and what that means to company executives and mid-level managers.

**Bruce Thompson, an information technology guy who touted the green-building movement during a recent presentation to the Fourth Friday Technology Forum (see story, Page B2), has hopes that government will continue to encourage the trend.

He noted the U.S. Senate is currently considering three bills that would cap carbon dioxide emissions from cars, industry and power plants. Thompson said the generation of energy used to heat, cool and light buildings accounts for 43 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, so curbing the energy use of buildings would be significant progress on the environmental front.

Thompson doesn’t just talk energy conservation — he and his family are living it. The October issue of Kiplinger’s personal finance magazine carried an article about Thompson and his family and the new home they just built in East Grand Rapids. Techniques and materials used in the construction are aimed at qualifying the house for Gold LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Thompson estimated that the green aspects of his new home added about 5 percent to the cost, but annual heating and cooling bills should be about $2,000 less than those of a typical Michigan home, according to the Kiplinger’s article.

Fourth Friday Technology Forum is presented by The Right Place Inc.’s West Michigan Technology Council. The next forum is Friday, Oct. 26, and will feature Rob Huisingh, vice president of sales and marketing for Foxbright.    

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