Extending a regional 'welcome mat'

August 24, 2009
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If there is anything good about a slowdown in commercial real estate development, it might be that area public planners aren’t reviewing a boatload of site plans and so have more time on their hands than usual.

“Planning staffs are not doing a lot of site plans. We’re working on a master plan,” said Kentwood Mayor Richard Root.

So the Grand Valley Metro Council wants to take advantage of their down time and get them together as a group this fall to come up with and agree to some planning standards that would cover the entire region.

Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula described the concept as developing a “welcome mat” for outside investors. He said the council is working on the project with some economic development organizations like The Right Place and Lakeshore Advantage.

Stypula said the area needs to incorporate a regional approach to attract investors.

“It’s how that customer is treated and the experience that person has,” he said of the defining factors that will bring outside investment to West Michigan.

“We’re developing a common set of principles that can move them forward,” he added.

The Metro Council recently asked planners in cities and townships throughout the region what their most immediate needs were in order to get a better grip on how the organization could serve them. GVMC Planning Director Andy Bowman said the responses revealed that the most immediate need was getting staff trained for professional credentials.

Other less immediate needs included holding workshops for boards and commissions and having someone help facilitate multi-jurisdictional meetings. Bowman said he plans to follow up the survey with one-on-one meetings with planners.

“Sadly, there isn’t a forum for all planning commissions to get together,” he said.

Stypula said he hoped to have more details on the welcome-mat approach in a few weeks and then get as many groups as possible together this fall to discuss the recommendations.

“Maybe we can do it on a sub-regional basis,” he said, “because otherwise we’ll need a building the size of DeVos Place.”

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