A New Day for TraverseCONNECT

Four years ago this month the Grand Traverse region’s efforts to shape its future in economic development took a quiet – but significant – turn through the creation of TraverseCONNECT. Now it’s time for the vision to become reality.

TraverseCONNECT was launched in April 2015 through the reorganization of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and two of its affiliates – the Chamber Foundation and the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp. Through the foresight of just-departed CEO Doug Luciani, TraverseCONNECT was created as a regional economic development organization designed to take on a leadership role in growing and diversifying northwest Michigan’s economy – and freeing the Chamber to better focus on its historic and important role of serving the interests of its 1,500-strong members and the communities they serve.

The evolution of TraverseCONNECT up to this point has been gradual and deliberate – an economic development organization (EDO) was a new concept for our region. Building on the example of successful EDOs in other Michigan communities and across the country, it was necessary to build momentum and consensus over time. Resources are limited and it was important to not over promise and under deliver. It was also vital that this transition not overshadow the work of our century-old Traverse City Chamber, which remains the cornerstone of the organization.

Even with the modest rollout, the organization has several significant accomplishments. Notable successes include TraverseCONNECT’s coordination of a new housing development along Garfield Ave. in Traverse City known as Trailside 45, which created new options for workforce housing in the region’s tight housing market. Even more impressive is the work of Venture North Funding & Development – successor of the Chamber Foundation and Traverse Bay EDC – which is nearing its 100th  business development and expansion loan totaling more than $5 million in lending capital to area businesses. TraverseCONNECT’s early childhood development initiative at the 5toONE/Great Start Collaborative is making major progress in expanding quality early childhood development services for northern Michigan’s families and businesses. It’s a model being emulated in other communities across Michigan and the U.S.

Now it’s time to raise the profile of TraverseCONNECT and generate the regional impact envisioned at its inception. As its new president and CEO, it’s my job to tell the TraverseCONNECT story and help forge the public and private partnerships needed to drive the region’s economic prosperity to new heights. For too many years the private and public sectors of northwest Michigan have taken a largely laissez-faire approach in shaping our region’s economic future. Our local economy is growing, to be sure, but often without much forethought, which generates its own challenges in terms of housing, infrastructure, land use, wage growth, workforce talent and other economic potholes.

Our business and community leaders need to come together on specific, targeted initiatives to diversify the area’s economy, entice new employers here with good-paying careers and opportunities, and make sure we have the talent, facilities and infrastructure to fulfill their needs. It will take a lot of effort and resources to get it right, but the time is now for our communities to take a proactive role in shaping our economic future.

In the coming weeks and months you’ll be hearing more about TraverseCONNECT and its efforts. It’s important to have public buy-in and engagement for economic and community development. As more public bodies and agencies get on board, it’s critical these initiatives be direct and transparent in terms of methods, goals and objectives. Sound and effective economic development policy benefits our entire region and it is to everyone’s advantage to be clear and definitive about the path forward. I look forward to serving as that messenger and I’m excited about the possibilities ahead.

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