Economic Growth, Vision & Reality

     Yesterday was very exciting for me.  During many years of serving in both economic and human development organizations I had great hope for the rejuvenation of Southwest Michigan. I still do. With phenomenal community partners in Whirlpool, Lakeland Regional Health, and AEP (Indiana-Michigan Power) among many other much smaller businesses there has been steadfast growth in both programs and development to serve regional needs for change.  For years we worked to purchase the land which has become the Golf Club at Harbor Shores, host 2012 Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid in a few weeks. During those years continual meetings and plans were drawn up for what at that time was the most underutilized waterfront property in the entire Great Lakes region.
     For those that aren't familiar, the economic downturn hit Michigan long before the global financial crisis and the great recession.   There's no lack of stories about the difficulties in commercial financing for small business and start-ups during this fiscal catatonic state.
     Leaders with vision don't quit when difficulties arise though.   They adjust, readjust and find opportunities to accomplish greater good for all stakeholders anyway.  As Paul said "I keep pressing toward the prize."  Knowing full well that there will be resistance along the way regardless of the choices that must be made.
Picture courtesy John Madill - The Herald Palladium
     When working in Chicago Monday I missed the ribbon cutting of Whirlpool's new office building on Main Street in downtown Benton Harbor.   In the original visions (multiple plans) that should have been a new hotel and marina, but commercial financing for such projects has slowed developers.   So Whirlpool invested $70 million to build within the city, creating additional tax revenue for a community that greatly needs it.  Three weeks ago it was announced that the first chain restaurant to open in Benton Harbor in 40 years, a Subway, is opening shortly.   Yesterday, Kate Genellie's Herald Palladium story about Renaissance Athletic Club building a new 20,000 square foot facility in the model of a Division 1 college training center was another major turning point in community development for the region.
Sean Todman
     Sean Todman was a running back for Georgetown University and is the visionary for this project on Graham Avenue that will be open by December and invest approximately $5.5 million dollars.  Membership will run a hundred dollars a month, and the location is right across from the first and second holes of the Golf Club at Harbor Shores.  In this era of banking fear, the project is being personally financed.  That speaks volumes, not only to Todman's courage and entrepreneurship, but to his vision of what is possible for job creation and profitability of businesses in this region.  If you build it, and build with passion, they will come.  We've barely touched the surface of community development, even with all the steadfast work by multiple entrepreneurs in the Benton Harbor Arts District for over ten years.
     Right now, there is a tremendous opportunity for businesses of all kinds; service, retail, and yes, manufacturing to relocate, build, or start new ventures in Southwest Michigan.  A low cost of living; an increasingly capable workforce thanks in part to Michigan Works and the number of downsized experts in many fields over the years; a unique combination of transportation opportunities; two full time colleges in Lake Michigan College and Southwestern Michigan College with four locations and an additional two regional campuses from Western Michigan University and Siena Heights University; affordable housing; superb schools; and oh by the way, Lake Michigan and some of the highest rated beaches in the world.  Additionally, the much larger markets of Kalamazoo, Holland and Grand Rapids (Michigan), South Bend, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois are essentially an hour or less away.  I know in part because my firm has more business currently in Illinois than here in Michigan.  We're working to change that.
     So on this rainy and overcast Friday morning, I'm both grateful and extremely hopeful that the storms of economic disparity and job loss are fading fast.  And the list of those who dreamed of better days and have worked faithfully and continually to build a better future for everyone in the region is far too long to list here.  None of us is sitting back and resting though for there is always room for improvement.
     For more information about business opportunities in Southwest Michigan, start with Cornerstone Alliance.  They are dedicated, very smart, and on the high side of customer service oriented.

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