Perfect showplace for best practices

October 20, 2008
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It’s all about connectivity.

That was a word used more than once last week, perhaps nowhere more appropriately than in a reception bringing together folks from the east and west side of the state to share common visions.

Grand Action co-chair David Frey and Grand Valley State University President Tom Haas each stressed to that audience the essential formula for achieving a statewide resurgence in business and education, in particular. Each region holds dearly its specific character traits. It requires an out-of-the-box mindset to reach out and learn about how things might work better — and best. Last week’s activities established another link in that process.

Bus excursions that took visitors back and forth from Grand Rapids and Detroit yielded new understanding about the accomplishments and challenges of each center of commerce. As was the case with the recent Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Policy Conference, and years of meetings on Mackinac Island coordinated by the Detroit chamber, it pays to roll up more sleeves and brainstorm a path to a united front. Conditions are way too difficult throughout the world to allow any walls erected down the center of the state to stand.

As real estate professionals from across the state gathered in Grand Rapids for the 22nd annual University of Michigan and Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum, the spotlight was on best practices in real estate development in the West Michigan region. Stories were shared with east Michigan counterparts, generating a clear picture of how to create and sustain economic success.

This was the first year the event was being held in Grand Rapids. In the past it has always been staged at a Southeast Michigan location, and Tom Wackerman, chairman of the forum, joined others in shifting the focus to this area.

Business Journal staff presented extensive real-time coverage of the forum on the publication’s blog site: grbusinessjournal.blogspot.com. Readers learned of sessions and dialogue focusing on such topics as inter-governmental cooperation, the keys to developing a successful city, the perspective of the lending community in the current difficult economic climate, and the role the nonprofit sector plays in contributing to the financial vibrancy of a community.

Among other topics garnering prominent attention were the development of the health care and life sciences corridor on Michigan Street, the effectiveness of brownfield reclamation projects, and a concerted formula for growth shared by Frey and his Grand Action co-chairs John Canepa and Dick DeVos.

The West Michigan capabilities were on full display as the winners of the forum’s Excellence Awards sat on a panel that saw everyday competitors sharing the nuts and bolts of their profession with a captive audience. They spoke about how they are working to overcome the well-documented impediments of government taxation and regulation, let alone the stiff market challenges that cloud their bottom lines on a regular basis.

And those were just the activities that took place in the light of day. Deal-making and private networking discussions were no doubt running rampant during the city tours, coffee clutches and pub crawls that took conference attendees away from the stuffy conference rooms and put them in more comfortable settings.

Grand Rapids is a “real estate best practices showcase, and that’s the objective of the real estate forum,” Wackerman said. “Here we’ve got this medium-sized city in Michigan that’s really working, even in the midst of a seven-year state recession. We felt we needed to look at it. The catalyst was the development that’s happening in West Michigan and the regional cooperation that’s driving that development.”

The consensus is everyone should come along for this ride.

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