Diligence rewarded as growth efforts prevail

October 4, 2010
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Every business owner knows a humbling moment, especially when years of labor are recognized and prized. So it has been this past week for two entities working tirelessly to provide continued economic development and national recognition.

The Right Place Inc. was recognized by the International Economic Development Council with an award for excellence in Economic Development, saluting its West Michigan Automotive Summit, which brought together hundreds of supply chain business owners.

When Southwest Airlines announced plans to buy AirTran Airways, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport board and staff had reason to celebrate its decade-long effort to woo and win low-cost carrier AirTran, and the anticipated service expansion for airport users in the coming years.

And both entities have worked hand-in-glove to support the business community through trials and triumphs at the expanded airport. Even with airport Director James Koslosky’s representation as a leader on the National Aeronautics Board, Grand Rapids has been left off the list of too many airlines for too long — especially discount carriers.

The frustration of the chicken-and-egg issue related to the ability to better provide direct travel for the business community and its subsequent recruitment and growth is local legend. It forced creation of the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan, a group of business representatives (including The Right Place) who have been assisting airport staff the past year in show-and-tell meetings.

Local business leaders have faced continuously increasing airfares even while flight availability and inventory has declined. Even with that, the GRFIA has recorded consecutive increases in passenger activity, up 28.5 percent in June alone. The total year-to-date activity in 2010 is up 17.89 percent over 2009, and does not yet indicate the increases related to ArtPrize.

The ability of the GRFIA staff to successfully negotiate for AirTran service was a big victory. And that makes Koslosky optimistic for further improvement.

The Air Alliance members last week noted, “This proposed acquisition works to validate the West Michigan market’s need for and willingness to support the presence of a true ‘network’ low-cost carrier. We are pleased that Southwest also recognizes the same key qualities in AirTran that we did in identifying the best fit for our region — a consumer focused, competitive and profitable air service provider. In the coming months, we look forward to seeing how this acquisition will impact our region and how the air alliance may continue its efforts to improve the quality of commercial air service for the residents and businesses of West Michigan.”

The airport was named by the Business Journal in January as one of the Top 10 Newsmakers of 2009 as a regional engine for economic development. Noted were the GRFIA improvements finished last year under budget and ahead of schedule — and paid for by users, not taxes.

The significance of these accomplishments is not lost on the business community.

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