My Take: Economic Development and Tulips

Posted in Blog on May 10, 2016

by Jennifer Owens, president, Lakeshore Advantage
as it appeared in The Holland Sentinel on May 8, 2016

“I don’t know exactly what you do, but I know you do great work.”

This is a common praise our team hears from those not in the field of economic development, but benefitting from growing businesses in our community. We completely understand the comment as our profession is unique, designed to be nimble and evolve to the ever-changing business community we support.

As we kick off National Economic Development Week and celebrate our community’s blooming beauty, it seems like an ideal time to tiptoe through the tulips and explore how economic development works in our community.

Most of our tulips were planted with care, many very purposefully. Some sprout up unexpectedly. The sun shines and warms the ground, awakening them from the winter slumber. Groundskeepers fertilize them and bees pollenate them for future generations. The tulips do the work of blooming, supported by their ecosystem, to be enjoyed by all in our community.

Think of the tulips as our community’s emerging and established primary employers. These employers are the economic base of our community. They create a product or service that is principally sold outside of our region, generating new money and profits that are brought back into our region. Supporting these existing employers is our team’s number one priority. We work to catalyze the resources needed to drive their health so they can create great jobs for our residents now and in the future.

Our current economy is like a healthy field of tulips abloom with opportunity and the promise of great weather ahead. The vibrant tulips exist when all the pieces of the ecosystem coordinate well together. As the catalyst driving economic vitality in our region, Lakeshore Advantage could be likened to bees, going from tulip to tulip, learning from our primary employers what they require from their community to support immediate and long-term challenges and opportunities they face.

Our team takes the bee’s-eye view of the tulip field and measures business health through a data driven approach and not purely gut feel. This allows us to collectively determine how best to support continuing business growth. We work to grow our garden at all stages of development, from a two-person company to a primary employer. We recognize the importance of retaining our mature businesses, while looking forward to support our future business leaders.

Our work cannot be done alone. We serve as the super-connectors to introduce primary employers to organizations at the state and local levels, business support groups, workforce development organizations, as well as the K-12 and post-secondary education systems. We provide guidance to our employers, helping them understand which of these tools will best meet their needs.

A majority of economic development is done in the background in the same way nurturing a tulip field happens. We are fortunate to live in a community where tulips and businesses thrive. Lakeshore Advantage is honored to be the steward of our community’s business ecosystem, connecting primary employers and emerging businesses to resources that assist their growth, keeping the whole community healthy. Although our community’s residents may not be aware of all the moving parts that go into supporting our business garden, we hope all will benefit from the vibrant, diverse employers that make our community flourish.