The Changing of the Guard: It’s a pivotal time for region’s new leadership lineup

Few have noticed it but we’re experiencing a massive changing of the guard in Traverse City.

  • Leslie Eckert from Raleigh, North Carolina, will lead Northwestern Michigan College’s wonderful Great Lakes Culinary Institute.
  • Leila Hilal is the new director of the college’s equally wonderful International Affairs Forum. She comes to us from a think tank in Washington, D.C.
  • Koffi Kpachavi is the new leader of the Grand Traverse Conservation District. His last position was in Fremont, north of Grand Rapids. He has an intriguing background in sustainable farming, bee preservation and youth programs.
  • Ann Cardon becomes the superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools, combining an impressive resume with personal warmth and approachability. She moves here from St. Joseph.

The common thread among them is they’re all newcomers to the area, which is interesting. Maybe that means the word is getting out about Traverse City being more than just a great place to vacation.

But there are familiar faces taking over other positions of leadership, as well:

  • Warren Call is off to a fast start as the president and CEO of TraverseCONNECT, calling for more balance, diversity and community capital in our economy. Welcome words indeed. He was a natural hire given all his fine work with Grand Traverse County Economic Development Corporation, TCNewTech, 20Fathoms, Front Street Irregulars and more.
  • Matt McDonough isn’t new to anyone who follows the incredible work of both the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and the Munson Healthcare Foundation. Now he’s tasked with leading the evolution of West Bay’s Discovery Center & Pier into a major community resource and attraction.
  • Michele Howard, known for her work on the Traverse City Commission, was hired in June to lead the Traverse City District Library. She impressed with her positive outlook and a vision for how the library, already a regional jewel, can become even better.

Then, of course, within the next few months there will be fresh faces running the Traverse City Film Festival, the Dennos Museum Center, Munson Medical Center and Northwestern Michigan College. That’s an amazing amount of change in a relatively short period of time.

But is it a good thing?

Absolutely! We’ll miss the pros who previously held those jobs and the contributions they made. Think of all the lives they touched personally and through their organizations! Traverse City owes a debt of gratitude to them for their wisdom, energy and efforts. Know this, folks: You made TC a better place to live.

But fresh perspectives can be invigorating. We need that. Especially now. We’re at a pivotal moment in the region’s history in that we’re trying to decide who we are. Are we a small region or a bigger one? What about our economy – are we more than agriculture, tourism, small business? Do we want to attract more scalable businesses – and if we do, what changes do we have to make?

It’s nice to say let’s grow, but if we do, where do we house people? What about parking? What about traffic? What about taller buildings? Do we extend the tax increment finance plan? (I say yes.) And how important a role will our new economic development organization play? (A big one, I hope.) What about start-ups and second stage companies? What do we want to expand? What do we need to watch out for? And how do we convince our kids to stay and grow with the community?

As a region we have a lot to discuss. I am excited to hear what our leaders have to say about it all.
I’m looking forward to meeting you all. The Grand Traverse region is a special one. Together, we can make it even better.

Onward and upward!

McKeel Hagerty is the CEO of Hagerty.