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What economies across the state can learn from West Michigan’s success

Mar 9, 2017

The Next Idea

West Michigan is one of the most economically healthy regions in our state. It’s been cited as the fifth fastest-growing city in the country.

By digging into what’s made West Michigan such a good place for businesses to take root and grow, other communities might find something to learn.

The Right Place is an economic development organization in West Michigan that’s helped thousands of companies in the area, and created some 40,000 jobs.

“One thing we always tell people is there’s really no magic bullet to what’s happening in West Michigan,” said Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications for the Right Place. “I think a lot of it goes to our entrepreneurial spirit here.”

He said one of the great things about West Michigan is that no one company took hold and established the area.

“It’s been thousands of companies over the last hundred and some odd years that have really made West Michigan what it is today,” he said. “Most of the buildings downtown that you see today, most of the successful businesses that were established here have grown up here--and now, in many cases, are multi-generational.”

The Right Place is now out with a new, three-year strategic plan to keep things humming along.

"How can you help in your curriculum? How can you help in workforce training to really make those connections and help us grow our talent pool so that my business can continue growing in the region?"

“One of the things we always try and focus on is, what are those foundational elements of economic growth that need to be in place before we even start talking about industries or talent or anything like that?” Mroz said.

The new three-year strategic plan reflects that. It focuses on infrastructure, work-ready talent and quality of life.

“Those are kind of the three elements that we see that are going to really set a good foundation, no matter what industry we’re looking to attract, or what business we’re looking to attract,” Mroz said.

Mroz said one of the great things about West Michigan is the high level of “public-private collaboration” that occurs.

“You see private businesses that are working every day with Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Michigan Works! and having that open dialogue, saying 'This not just what I have today in terms of needs for my workforce, but here’s what I’m going to need over the next three-to-five years,'” Mroz said. “How can you help in your curriculum? How can you help in workforce training to really make those connections, and help us grow our talent pool so that my business can continue growing in the region?”

While each community across this state is different, Mroz said there’s a key takeaway from West Michigan’s success: Success stems from “really round dialogue.”

“Making sure that your partners in local government are at the table, making sure your business leaders are at the table. Making sure that your assets in terms of infrastructure, whether it be electric, water and sewer, broadband is another huge issue,” he said. “Making sure that those voices are at the table as well when you’re starting to plan for future economic growth.”

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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