Lakeshore and Small Business & Startups

Holland pursues SmartZone satellite designation

October 10, 2014
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A lakeshore city with a history of successful entrepreneurs is constructing a regional partnership with Grand Rapids to develop a SmartZone along Lake Macatawa’s shoreline.

Representatives from governmental agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations attended the first Holland SmartZone Financing Authority Board meeting Oct. 8 to elect officials and approve a formal partnership with the Grand Rapids SmartZone to further develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Holland.

Holland’s designation as a satellite SmartZone will enable an exchange of information, knowledge and support between Grand Rapids and the lakeshore city to support the growth of technology-related or research-oriented businesses and employment opportunities.

Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage, said the organization will be serving as the executive director of the Holland SmartZone and has been working closely with the city of Grand Rapids for the past eight weeks to explore the implementation of the program.

“Currently, the SmartZone program does not allow for stand-alone SmartZones to be created; those are no longer available,” said Owens. “The state has shifted to a model in which there are satellites of existing SmartZones. It is a formal mentoring relationship in which a community can learn from an established community that has utilized this program for a long period of time.”

The designation of Grand Rapids’ SmartZone was approved in January 2002 by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. after the city of Grand Rapids, The Right Place, Van Andel Institute, GVSU and Grand Rapids Community College submitted a joint proposal in 2001.

As a state level program, SmartZones provide geographical locations where technology firms, entrepreneurs and researchers are located within close proximity to community assets to assist in their sustainability, according to the MEDC. Considered a TIF district, the primary source of operating funds in 2011 for the Grand Rapids SmartZone was derived from the tax recapture revenue plan developed by the local development finance authority, according to a revised strategic and business plan draft.

Within each of the 15 SmartZones across Michigan, business accelerators provide incubator services to facilitate growth, such as: business development mentoring, networking events, feasibility studies, entrepreneurial training, market analysis, technology mining, grant writing, management recruitment and product development.

Owens said the formal collaboration with Grand Rapids will allow connectivity between the two regions’ startup ecosystems.

“I think this is a really great step toward strengthening collaboration between two major cities in West Michigan. The collaboration of our community leaders to come together to look at a strong formal partnership with Grand Rapids has just been incredible,” said Owens. “The SmartZone designation is really the beginning of creating a true entrepreneurial ecosystem in Holland.”

Kurt Dykstra, mayor of Holland and vice-chair of the Holland SmartZone board, said the designation of the zone is a benefit for the communities.

“People live and work here, in large part, because of the innovative culture fueled by leaders like Ed Prince, G.W. Haworth, Max DePree and Fred Bauer,” said Dykstra in the press release. “The Holland SmartZone will be a phenomenal tool to help our communities support the next generation of innovators.”

With a history of entrepreneurism in the community beginning with great ideas and commercializing it into industry opportunities, Owens said the Holland community continues to create new ideas and innovate, but resources and support are limited.

“Support for those entrepreneurs are limited, and this allows a jumpstart or an additional amount of resources to really help those who are already creating innovative products move those products forward to the market quicker, and help assist them on the path to commercialization,” said Owens. “The Holland community has really been built and lifted up by amazing entrepreneurs throughout the course of our history.”

The establishment of the satellite SmartZone would encompass roughly 1,000 acres in the city of Holland and Holland Township along the waterfront of Lake Macatawa, connecting the downtown area to the northern shoreline by the Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute at 242 Howard Ave. With the existing facility for the board of water and light currently in the process of being de-commissioned in that area, and land vacant behind the institute, Owens said the area is prime for new growth and development to create a walkable community from the institute to downtown Holland.

“We see this to be the center of innovation, research and development for our SmartZone. We recognize technology centers are most successful when they are connected to a vibrant downtown,” said Owens. “The goal with the SmartZone is to utilize those resources to create a sense of place and community that will encourage entrepreneurs to locate and spend their leisure time in the downtown Holland area.”

Mike Goorhouse, president of the Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland, said the organization strongly believes the SmartZone designation will provide an opportunity to increase the amount of resources available for the community to invest in growth and development.

During the meeting, there were 12 members appointed to the Local Development Financing Authority Board and six ex-officio members comprising representatives from Holland, Holland Charter Township, Ottawa County, Holland Public Schools and West Ottawa Public Schools.

The appointments included: Craig Hall, LeeShore Enterprises; Kurt Dykstra, city of Holland/Mercantile Bank; Vince Bush, Holland Charter Township; Randall Schipper, Cunningham-Dalman PC; Mary Remenschneider, Hope College; Marcia Bishop, Van Andel Institute; Brian Burch, Holland City Council/Burch Partners; Mat Nguyen, Worksighted; Peter Beukema, Suburban Inns; Paul Hunt, Michigan State University; Joseph Baumann, Farm Bureau Insurance; and Ann Harten, Haworth.

The ex-officio members consist of: Ryan Cotton and Dana Kollewehr, city of Holland; Don Komejan, Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland; Mark Knudsen, Ottawa County; and Roselyn Zator, Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Currently the board is developing an action plan for the SmartZone, which is anticipated for public release early in November. Additional steps in the process include approving a tax increment financing plan and working with existing entrepreneurs to meet their needs, according to Owens.

“That will be the plan to determine, as the resources come in, what is the priority for spending,” said Owens in reference to the financing plan. “We will also be doing some very significant strategic planning, spending time examining this community’s strengths and weaknesses as it relates to entrepreneurism, looking at how other regions have approached this tool, and then doing some very thoughtful listening to our existing entrepreneurs.”

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