Holland Zeeland Cement Partnership

July 11, 2003
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The push to create a new organization to spearhead economic development efforts in the Holland-Zeeland area has entered the phase of determining how such an endeavor will operate.

Working out the exact scope and duties of any new economic development organization and how it would complement, rather than duplicate, the work of existing groups in Holland and Zeeland is the job of a new board of directors that a panel of business leaders from both communities hopes to have in place as soon as the end of this week.

For now, the biggest step in the process has been taken through the willingness of business and community leaders who examined the issue over the past six months to work regionally on economic development, said Greg Holcombe, a planning consultant with the Riverview Group who helped to steer the effort.

Quite often the ability to merely get local leaders to sit down and talk about mutual issues and how to address them together is the biggest stumbling block to regional collaboration, Holcombe said. A steering committee consisting of representatives from Holland and Zeeland has effectively crossed that hurdle, he said.

“In our minds, that’s what hasn’t been happening and we now have a foundation to achieve that,” Holcombe said. “I think we’ve come a long way in that dialogue.”

The steering committee, formed in January by the Holland Economic Development Corp. and the Zeeland Community Development Committee, recommended last month the formation of a new nonprofit, private sector-driven organization.

Envisioned is an organization that would complement the existing work of HEDCOR and the Zeeland Community Development Committee while providing more regional coordination to economic development activities such as recruiting new employers and retaining existing firms.

“It’s the classic case once again of how do you work regionally but still maintain identity within local units — and that’s not always easy,” said Ann Query, executive director of the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Zeeland Community Development Committee.

But maintaining that local identity is important and necessary, said Jack Marquis, the managing partner of Warner Norcross & Judd in Holland who chaired the steering committee. The goal of the new organization is not to replace or duplicate the role of existing economic development activities in either community, but to better coordinate efforts from a regional perspective while “at the same time acknowledging history,” Marquis said.

“This new economic development corporation is not going to be right out of the blocks as if nothing before preceded it. It’s going to operate as if a lot has been happening and help make it a lot more efficient,” Marquis said. “This can be done much more efficiently and effectively on a regional basis. The challenge for this group is to see that that occurs.”

One of the initial activities of the new organization’s nine- to 15-member board of directors is “to develop recommendations for services among existing organizations and planning for new complementary activities and new economic initiatives,” states the steering committee’s June 20 report.

That will include offering ideas on how existing organizations can restructure their economic development activities to work with the creation of the new group, as well as identifying “what isn’t being done that should be done,” Marquis said.

The organization, according to a conceptual proposal the steering committee put forward, also would develop programs to help businesses improve their efficiency and effectiveness, work for the retention and expansion of existing businesses and industries, lead efforts to identify the types of businesses to recruit to the area and strategies to attract them, and work to identify infrastructure needs to support ongoing economic growth and development.

A regional organization would also work closely with other local agencies — such as the Ottawa County Economic Development Office, the Allegan County Economic Alliance and The Right Place Inc. in Kent County — and with the state, as well as assure “favorable community resources and culture to support new ideas and economic growth.”

HEDCOR, the Zeeland Community Development Committee, and chambers of commerce in Holland and Zeeland will each appoint a member to the new organization’s board of directors. The steering committee will fill the remaining five to 11 slots.

Driving creation of the new agency was the economic downturn, particularly in the hard-hit office furniture industry, plant closings and the ever-changing global marketplace that makes economic development an increasingly challenging game and requires a more regional and aggressive approach.

“With all the changes occurring in the economic world, we all have to be better at what we do, and this is a way to affect that change,” Query said.    

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