Economic Development and Small Business & Startups

The Right Place looks ahead to next strategic plan

Agency surpasses investment goal; in home stretch for jobs, payroll.

May 20, 2016
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Economic development agency The Right Place is nearing the end of its most recent strategic plan, and the results are coming in.

Birgit Klohs, president and CEO, said the organization is on track to meet the benchmarks it set at the start of 2014, when the plan went into effect.

The 2014-2016 Strategic Plan set out to achieve 5,500 new or retained jobs, $183 million in new payroll and $390 million in capital investment.

Klohs said currently the organization has announced more than $500 million in capital investment and will likely announce another $20 million or more soon.

“So we will be well into the $525 million range,” she said.

Klohs said the organization is approaching 4,000 jobs.

“We are not quite there yet, but we have the rest of the year,” she said.

Payroll is at approximately 70 percent of the goal.

The organization still has a pipeline of projects that Klohs said could bring all those numbers home.

“We are going to get close to hitting those numbers, and we’re hoping to achieve them,” she said.

The Right Place is already working with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the organization it partnered with previously to develop its current plan, on its next strategic plan, spanning 2017-2020.

“They are interviewing key stakeholders as we speak,” she said.

Klohs said the next strategic plan will update the current plan, incorporating “what worked, what didn’t work and what has changed.”

She said the current plan has been mostly successful, and she pointed out the five strategic growth areas — smart manufacturing, agribusiness and food processing, life sciences and biotech, technology and communications, and commercial design — all proved to be hot industries.

“We hit the right ones,” she said. “We are very much a manufacturing center. It’s hitting on all cylinders. A lot of our projects over the last two to three years have been in food processing.

“Life sciences, biotech, and the Medical Mile — we are very much engaged with those institutions. We are also engaged with the medical device industry.

“Tech and telecommunications has become very much a focus and a growing area. We’ve had a number of projects in that arena, and we are also working on talent needs.”

She said at this point she can’t predict whether the new plan will include any major changes to the strategic growth industry areas.

Klohs said the most challenging of the five areas has been commercial design because it’s required a unique marketing approach compared to the other industries.

“We are still in the design stages as to how do we get our arms around commercial design,” she said, noting it’s not a standalone industry like smart manufacturing or agriculture. Instead, it “informs and is embedded in every industry we serve.”

She said the approach is to market the area’s deep commercial design talent and competencies.

“It is very different than saying, ‘Come here because we have water, sewer, roads and lots of electricity for your food processing plant,’ versus ‘We have this really rich … capability around commercial design.”

Klohs said The Right Place also has seen regional success in business support systems, infrastructure, work-ready talent and quality of life — foundations of economic growth that The Right Place has supported.

She noted The Right Place supported the passage last year of funding for Michigan’s roads.

The organization also supports the $45 million renovation to modernize Gerald R. Ford International Airport and create an environment that reflects West Michigan for first-time visitors.

“Rick Chapla, vice president of strategic initiatives for The Right Place, is deeply engaged with Muskegon Area First and the county of Muskegon on the port, which is the only deep-water port on the west side of the state,” she said. “It is critical for our logistics that that port stays a high priority. In fact, it is the No. 1 priority of the Regional Prosperity Initiative, and we are deeply involved in that initiative.

“We are continuing to monitor and look at our rail infrastructure, which is becoming more and more critical, as well.”

The Right Place also is conducting a broadband survey of its 13-county area to gauge connectivity and figure out where improvements are needed.

Klohs said there is also a lot of engagement in the area of work-ready talent, particularly with community colleges.

She noted The Right Place is now hosting Hello West Michigan, an organization recruiting previous Michiganders back to the state and helping to welcome and settle relocating families.

Klohs said the key to success in work-ready talent is educating young people on the importance of education beyond high school.

“If you want to have a career that pays you the kind of money you need to be self-sufficient, have a family, etc., you will need a post-secondary education. It can be a four-year degree, a two-year degree, an apprenticeship program, but high school alone won’t cut it, and dropping out won’t cut it,” she said.

“We are at a time in the development of the country, in the region and the state where we really need both (college and trade school graduates). There are those who really should go to college, and there are those with gifts in the skilled trades.”

The Right Place also is involved in improving life in the region.

“We serve on 24 different boards that are engaged on some type of quality-of-life issue,” she said.

Klohs expects to introduce The Right Place’s 2017-2020 Strategic Plan before the end of this year.

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