Holland Zeeland As One Market

December 27, 2002
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HOLLAND — What began as a look at the future shape of the Holland Economic Development Corp. has evolved into a broader effort to examine, and possibly unify, some economic development activities across a larger region of southwest Ottawa County.

The key to the upcoming planning process, participants say, is identifying what activities are best coordinated on a regional basis, and what are better handled locally.

"I think it's a process of feeling out how it can be done comfortably for everybody," said Ann Query, executive director of the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce. "We have everything to gain by this effort, if we do it right."

Participants in the effort, to kick off in early 2003, include the Holland Economic Development Corp., the Zeeland Chamber, City of Holland and surrounding communities.

Driving the broader review are changing dynamics in the economic development field and the crossroads at which HEDCOR has found itself.

HEDCOR, a private nonprofit organization created in the 1960s to acquire land for industrial development in order to diversify Holland's economic base, is nearly out of parcels in its two local industrial parks.

With workforce development and employer recruitment and retention long taking on increasing importance, HEDCOR's mission has evolved over the years. The organization this year began to look at the future to define its proper role in local economic development efforts and where to direct resources, President Chris Byrnes said.

The need for economic agencies to focus more on continually helping local businesses recruit and develop talent will only grow in the future, Byrnes said.

"The game is changing and just having the infrastructure and a good place to do business isn't enough," he said. "You've got to have a community that enables you to attract the people that you need."

HEDCOR directors decided to broaden the planning process when the Holland City Council, partly in response to the economic downturn that hit the office furniture industry hard and resulted in local plant closings, opted earlier this year to dedicate additional staff time toward economic development matters.

Also driving the initiative is the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, a public-private group that promotes regional collaboration.

HEDCOR, by taking a more regional perspective, wants to focus on the future roles of each community and organizations in the Holland-Zeeland area.

"It only made sense to look at us as one market," Byrnes said. "Businesses don't tend to draw a lot of distinctions between Holland and Zeeland. This is one area. We need to look at it as business does."

"What is it we're supposed to do and who is going do it? And there is obviously some governmental roles there," Byrnes said.

HEDCOR, for instance, could focus on retention and workforce development issues and marketing and promoting the region to employers. Local communities could then handle matters such as infrastructure and applications for tax breaks and other tax incentives.

In Holland, Assistant City Manager Greg Robinson this year became the point man at City Hall on economic development issues such as brownfield redevelopment.

The City Council decided to have staff put more time on working on economic development matters in an effort to complement the work of HEDCOR, Robinson said. By participating in the planning process with HEDCOR, the city can better define the responsibilities that the public sector can take on and avoid a duplication of efforts.

"All of us … are looking at just what should the economic development structure be for this area" Robinson said.

HEDCOR generally has handled economic development matters within the City of Holland and neighboring Holland Township.

The Zeeland Chamber of Commerce has carried the role in the City of Zeeland, Zeeland Township and portions of Holland Township, usually in the form of small business counseling and retention visits, Query said. Major efforts such as assisting a company with grant applications to the state for workforce development or infrastructure funds are passed on to the Ottawa County Economic Development Office that covers most of the other portions of Ottawa County, with the exception of the Grand Haven area.

While collaborating with HEDCOR to examine the issues that make great sense and could help bring more resources to assist Zeeland-based businesses, Query cautions that the process needs to tread carefully.

After all, she said, economic development is a fiercely competitive game. Issues such as hometown identity, institutional memory and knowledge, and one-on-one relationships with the business community are important and must not get lost in the process.

The last thing anybody wants is to have the overriding issues overshadowed by territorial differences, Query said.

"We have a very interesting opportunity, I think, with some naturally competitive situations and a need to promote the whole area," Query said. "There are a lot of ways we can and should work together, and there are ways in which it would be impossible. We have to identify those."

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