A Clear Strategy for Economic Development

Exciting things are starting to percolate in the realm of economic development for the Grand Traverse region. Several initiatives are still in the early stages, but there’s no question that 2019 will be a year of formative change in our community’s approach to fostering measurable and impactful economic growth for the region.

The groundwork is being laid through the efforts of TraverseCONNECT and Fourth Economy, an economic development consultancy hired to help implement a clear and comprehensive economic development strategy for our region. The consulting firm, funded with support from Grand Traverse County Economic Development Corporation, Hagerty, the city of Traverse City, and Venture North, recently completed an extensive collection of interviews with dozens of area business and community leaders to gather input and recommendations.

Those discussions generated a handful of key themes that are coming into focus as the effort moves forward. They include:

  • Establishing and identifying a single “quarterback” organization that leads the implementation of our regional economic development strategy. This organization will actively drive economic development efforts, directly oversee important business development initiatives, and work with partner organizations across the region on significant community initiatives.
  • This lead organization will be built as a public/private partnership, with private sector leadership, support from local government, and coordination among nonprofits. The cornerstone of this partnership will be financial investment and active participation from leading private sector businesses. Private sector leadership will be enhanced by support from nonprofit organizations and direct ongoing investment from the public sector, including counties, townships, cities and villages throughout the Grand Traverse region. Skin in the game from a broad base of partners is crucial for an effective regional economic development strategy.
  • The organization will create tangible and measurable benefits for our regional economy by implementing a comprehensive menu of economic development programs.
      • The first of these program areas are business expansion and retention strategies for local companies – success hinges on first helping our existing firms to grow and prosper. This includes talent development and attraction efforts to help draw skilled workers (and their spouses, partners and families) to our region. It also includes increasing the availability and visibility of investment capital sources.
      • The second set of programs are business support services that include – but aren’t limited to – leadership and employee development programming, legislative advocacy, and strategic business-to-business connection opportunities to help strengthen local companies.
      • The third key area is to create a focused business attraction strategy. We need to build upon the widespread recognition of our region as a vacation, conference and event destination to educate visitors on the attractiveness and benefits of moving their business operations here, or launching new initiatives in the Grand Traverse region. The annual CAR automotive conference at the Grand Traverse Resort, the Traverse City Film Festival, the IRONMAN Triathlon debuting this summer and other headline events bring thousands of new and repeat visitors to our region for fun, recreation and enjoyment. Let’s leverage the popularity of these events as a vehicle to expand the scope and diversity of our regional business base.

After a decade or more of dealing with growth pressures that sometimes exceed the capacity of our existing institutions, it is encouraging to see our region take a proactive approach to community and economic development with renewed excitement and momentum. We are fortunate to be where we are, but the region can do so much more to improve our regional economy, raise our standard of living and bolster local job and career opportunities through a comprehensive and broadly supported economic development strategy.

The strategy will continue to come into focus in the coming weeks and months. The next milepost on the journey is a regional economic development workshop coming up this month that will further define the necessary steps to reaching that goal. The energy is building and the sky is the limit for the possibilities ahead.

Warren Call is the president and CEO of TraverseCONNECT, a regional economic development organization that includes the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at warren.call@traverseconnect.org.