Economic Development, Manufacturing, and Technology

Right Place looks ahead next 3 years

Economic developer tweaks strategic plan to reflect changes in economy, jobs.

February 10, 2017
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The Right Place Inc. is shooting to bring $500 million in capital investment to the region over the next three years.

The Grand Rapids-based economic development organization unveiled its three-year strategic plan last week, sharing its goals of bringing and retaining 4,200 jobs and $150 million in payroll between now and the end of 2019. The Right Place also identified six new metrics of success that previously had not been made public.

In addition to its three traditional metrics — new and retained jobs, new and retained payroll and new capital investment — The Right Place is hoping to achieve the following goals over the next three years:

  • 50 economic development projects completed, including expansions, attraction and retention
  • 360 manufacturing support contracts completed
  • 1,200 companies served by The Right Place
  • 4,000 value-added “assists” provided to West Michigan companies
  • 1,575 work-ready professionals helped to find new employment
  • 4,800 attendees at Right Place events

The Right Place President and CEO Birgit Klohs said the six newly identified metrics peek below the surface of what the organization accomplishes on a yearly basis and provide new insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of fostering economic development in Grand Rapids.

“When you hear from us, you hear about a new project that we announce, and that reflects jobs, investments and new payroll,” Klohs said. “What you don’t see is what went on before, and we’ve never really tracked all the activity and work that we do to get to that project announcement. So, in order to get a project announcement for jobs, you have to have projects in the pipeline first and the pipeline we’ve had over the last few years has actually been very robust.”

In December, The Right Place reported on how it stacked up as it neared the completion of the previous three-year plan, which covered 2014 through 2016. The organization nearly doubled its goal of bringing in $390 million of capital investment to the region, announcing $725.1 million brought in during that time. However, The Right Place fell short of its goal to bring in or retain 5,500 jobs, having brought 4,146 jobs to the region in those three years.

The increase in robotics in manufacturing has contributed to the trend of projects that bring in the same amount of investment but fewer jobs. Where previously an expansion might require five new skilled-labor workers, it might now require just one skilled technician to man the machine manufacturing the product.

“The content of the job is changing,” Klohs said. “It requires a higher skill base.”

Both the tremendous success in capital investment and lower number of jobs created were reflected in developing the new strategic plan, Klohs said.

Additionally, the three-year plan identifies four strategic growth areas for the region — advanced manufacturing, life sciences and medical devices, food processing and agribusiness, and information technology and communications. According to the plan, manufacturing accounts for 15 percent of all jobs in the region and “firmly remains the foundation of West Michigan’s economy.”

The plan noted West Michigan’s IT industry is growing at nearly 14 percent, which is five points higher than the national average, while the life sciences industry has grown 38.7 percent over the last 10 years, 18 points higher than the national average.

Another new portion of the plan is The Right Place’s focus on thought leadership. With a board of directors comprising more than 40 executives across a variety of industries, including education, manufacturing, city government, finance and health care, The Right Place is positioned to receive comprehensive community engagement to shape a well-rounded vision for the region.

“We can share through our board, not just from us to them and them to us, but also they sit on other boards, and so you start disseminating information,” Klohs said.

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