Morren Relishes Full Plate
After 2002 faded into 2003, he found himself with not one, but two new titles.
Morren started the New Year as a new partner with Joel Peterson in Insignia Homes, a residential builder in Kentwood. A day later, Kent County commissioners unanimously selected him as their board chairman. Morren had been in the board’s No. 2 spot for the three previous years as vice chairman under Commissioner Steven Heacock.
“It’s all kind of exciting,” he said with a broad smile.
At Insignia Homes, Morren will handle the fiscal duties and search for new business for the firm that Peterson started more than five years ago. He has an accounting background, a CPA that has put his talents to work in three different industries. But Morren has spent his last five years in the residential construction field, and he credited Les DeHaan of DeHaan Builders with teaching him the tricks of that highly competitive trade.
“My duties are the financial and operational controls of the business,” he said of his new position at Insignia. “Joel will be running the jobs and I, basically, will be developing new business and managing the financial side of the business.”
Morren began his career as a CPA with a local public accounting firm. He then became a controller for a restaurant and hotel operator before moving into the construction business.
The 39-year-old Morren, a father of five and a native of Gaines Township who still lives there, told the Business Journal he felt lucky that voters chose him to represent them for the first time eight years ago. Last November, they re-elected him to a re-drawn 10th District.
“I consider it a real privilege and an honor to know that I’m representing numerous constituents, close to 600,000 of them in all of Kent County, and particularly the neighbors of where I live. I think that responsibility is really neat,” he said.
“At the county, it truly is public service. It’s not as political as what you might find elsewhere,” he added.
Morren said serving as county vice chairman was a great experience for him and he felt that he picked up more than a few things from Heacock during those years. Most notable, he said, was how to bring people together on an issue.
“It was one of his best talents and I learned a lot from him in regard to that. Hopefully, I can bring that same gift to this commission,” he said.
Board members are facing a number of key issues this year. Morren felt the top one was finding a resolution to the ongoing conflict between the city and county regarding the John Ball Zoo.
Findings from a recent feasibility study commissioned by the John Ball Zoological Society suggest that a market for an expanded zoo does exist on 193 acres east of the East Beltline in Grand Rapids Township. The land is home to a golf course and has been offered to the county for free by Fred Meijer of Meijer Inc.
“Another issue, and I’m just predicting this, is how we’re going to react as a county to declining state and federal money — we’ve never had to contend with that before — and how that is going to affect our current programs,” he said.
Morren said the board would also continue to look into urban sprawl, working from a report filed last year that came from an effort begun by Heacock three years ago. He also listed the proposed hotel for Calder Plaza as a key issue because the project would require the county to relocate its administration building if the deal goes forward.
“I think we need to be proactive to that issue, even beyond reacting to the developer’s request. What’s right for the county? How long can we stay there? And how long before we actually need to move regardless of whether it’s development property or not?” he said.
The new leadership at the county, which includes vice chairman Roger Morgan, met last week for the first time. The board will get together for it annual planning session on Feb. 4. Then Morren will give his first State of the County address on Feb. 13. Although he has begun work on that report, he said he wouldn’t put the finishing touches to it until after commissioners meet in two weeks.
When he isn’t working for the county or at Insignia, Morren spends a lot of time with his family. He and Laurie, his wife, have four daughters and a son. Mandy is the oldest at 15, followed by Jay (12), Molly (10) and six-year-old identical twins Annie and Emma.
“We enjoy camping and traveling, just family time. We enjoy just being together,” said Morren. “Clearly our kids keep us busy with all of their activities.”
It’s pretty obvious that Morren has a full plate for the year, but he seems like a guy who would be eager to get back in line for seconds. His commitment to family, to developing new business for Insignia and to leading a county board that has a budget approaching $400 million should be enough for anyone — an agenda that might overwhelm some.
Morren, however, looks forward to the challenges that 2003 presents, and, in his low-key manner, remains enthusiastic and optimistic about his immediate future.
“I hope at Insignia we continue to grow,” he said. “And I think I can provide competent and capable leadership for Kent County, and that the citizens will be well served.”