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Yearly Archives: 2006


by Joel Burgess

It is not our feet that move us along-it is our minds. – Ancient Chinese proverb

As we approach Christmas and the harsh Michigan winter, I was thumbing through Charles Swindoll’s aptly named 1985 book, Come Before Winter .and Share my Hope. In his “period of preparation” section, an idea that really caught my attention was entitled MegaChanges.

MegaChanges uses an inverted-L curve to show just how accelerated the changes occurring today truly are. For instance, looking at 3 examples:

The growing number of people – It took until 1850 for the world’s population to reach 1 billion; by 1930 the number doubled, by 1960 it reached 3 billion, and today there are over 6 billion people, with the number continuing to rise.

The number of books published – There were only 35,000 books published by 1900, and today over 400,000 books are published annually . Again the number continues to rise.

The speed of human travel – In 1800, the top speed was 20 mph on horseback. With the train the speed increased to 100 mph. In the early 1950’s, passenger jets took us to 300 plus mph; by 1980 that number doubled, and today I’m not even sure what top speed is. I heard that a jet was successfully clocked at over mach 7. (Sidebar: 1961’s space flight clocked at 16,000 mph.)

John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends , suggest ten trends with the most significant impacts on life as we know it, the biggest of which is the transformation of our society from an industrial society to a information society. Think about the inverted-L curve for available information.

What an impact this collection and organization of data has on all fields of discipline, including economic development.

A vital question is, given the accelerated changes happening all around us, how do we initiate and create policies and programs that give us a framework to stay flexible and adapt to these changes?

The answer is remarkably simple: ground ourselves in timeless truths– truths that when followed equal success. Wisdom, vision, boldness, respect, teamwork, flexibility, dedication, and courage are ancient but valuable watchwords.

Achieving these qualities is easier said than done I realize, but nonetheless, they are honorable and required aspirations. These truths should not be up for grabs .

Catching and Keeping Smart Companies

by Dean Whittaker

Smart companies lead in their fields through innovation. They use technology and knowledge to stay competitive in a global economy. The benefit to attracting and keeping these companies is that they add more value per employee, and therefore pay a higher-than-average wage than other industries, creating more wealth in the community.

But economic development organizations have to be smart to catch and keep them.

First, you need to be aware that there is risk associated with focusing on these firms. They tend to be more volatile in their employment levels and easily impacted by newer technology. Success depends upon their continuous innovation – they must be quick and nimble to avoid falling behind in their fields. Their competitive advantage is often difficult to protect and their product or service often has a very short life cycle. Economic developers must recognize that these companies embrace innovation as a way of life.

You may think you need to live in Silicon Valley or Route 128 in Boston to attract and keep innovative companies. But the first place to look is your own backyard. Innovation occurs everywhere, and most companies grow where they are planted – often where the founder lives – if the climate and culture are right. Part of the issue is access to capital. Does your area provide a source of seed capital and venture funding, and does it support risk-taking.even after frequent failures? If innovative start-ups don’t have the support they need to grow, they die on the vine.

Smart companies also need a supply of smart people. Attracting and keeping talent is paramount to the future of any community, and keeping local talent is easier than recruiting outsiders. While you may argue that keeping young people in small communities is not likely to happen, time may be on your side. When those same graduates get married and begin to have families, the security, safety, and proximity to family are strong motivators to come back to their hometowns. Staying in touch over the years through community newsletters and recruiting beginning at ten-year class reunions can begin the process.

Quality of life and environment are also tickets to attracting innovators. Right-brained innovators enjoy cultural variety and proximity to nature. Innovative thoughts often appear when we are engaged in doing something else, especially when we are close to nature or in a “creative” space. What make a place creative? A quiet walk along the beach or river can allow our brains to slip into the “gap” where these ideas lurk. Seeing other innovators – artists, musicians, writers – at work can spark our own creative ideas.

What else do smart companies need to succeed and prosper? A strong infrastructure of communication, travel and available capital are important assets. But your real task is to create your own center of excellence based upon an inventory of what your area produces, what it offers, and the smarts required to help it succeed.

WA's Habitat Experience

by Jami Miedema

On June 29, my coworkers and I had the privilege to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and help construct a home for a local Holland family. The single mother and her three teenage children were living in a house that could not accommodate the family and had electrical, plumbing, and structural problems.

Our tasks included painting the home’s interior and hanging doors. In less than four hours we had completed all of the painting and hung numerous doors throughout the house. It was great to see everyone working side-by-side and the results of our teamwork as the house took shape. It was not only a great learning experience, but it gave us all a sense of accomplishment and pride as we were able to use our skills to help a family in need.

Here are a few pictures of us hard at work!

The Lopez House

Left to Right: Jami, Tammy, Stephanie, Jordan, Maryjane, and Joel

Jami and Stephanie Painting

Maryjane, Joel and Jordan Hanging a Door

Cool Economic Development

by Joel Burgess

Tucked away on the last page of the Financial Times is an interesting article by Tyler Brule, entitled “Second Homes are Cool – Why Don’t Governments Have Them?” The article argues that countries should build strong secondary capital cities to increase tourism dollars. One of Brule’s supporting points is that capitals with cooler climates are needed to keep people (in this case politicians) both productive and pleasant .

Brule suggests current capitals should have a more temperate place to conduct business when the weather gets hot:

  • Washington to Bangor
  • Tokyo to Sapporo
  • London to Harrogate
  • Rome to Bolzano
  • Berlin to Sylt
  • Madrid to San Sebastian
  • Paris to Quebec City
  • The rest of the world with no cool capital options to Reykjavik, Oslo, or Stockholm

Brule’s suggestion may seem facetious, but he’s got a point. Coolness counts.

In the world of business attraction and recruitment, the game is often not so much about attracting the company, but attracting the one or two individuals at the top of company’s hierarchy. If the CEO likes weather like yours, you might just tempt the company your way.

Of course the role climate plays is hard to gauge quantitatively, as it varies greatly based on the decision-maker’s preference. And if climate is a reasonable factor, other indicators may give additional insight into an individual’s preferences:

  • Birthplace
  • Employment history locations (familiarity with your area may prove attractive)
  • Locations of higher education
  • Hobbies

Part of Whittaker Associate’s scope of services includes profiling the executives of companies. And in fact, one factor we track is climate preference.

The idea is to take information about the decision-maker and begin to match synergies between the individual and both your community and the executives of companies in your community. This approach allows you to find commonalities as a starting point to develop relationships, so when a company is ready to make a move, you already have rapport based on their CEO’s preferences, whether it’s weather or some other factor. How cool is that?

Best Places? Not so Fast!

by Dennis Burnside

“When it comes to a place to live and raise a family, most Americans want two things: the opportunity for themselves and their children to prosper, and a quality of life that lets them enjoy the fruits of their labor.” How can anyone argue with that statement as being a worthwhile goal in life? I don’t know anyone who does not wish to live somewhere that provides them those opportunities.

Money Magazine has just released its annual “America ‘s Best Place to Live” issue, and of course I was anxious to see where my current home town of Shaker Heights , Ohio , was ranked. The fact that Shaker Heights did not make the top ten was disappointing, but not a huge surprise. When I further reviewed the rankings of the top 90 cities, I was shocked that Shaker Heights had not even cracked that threshold. In spite of being emotionally devastated, I read the entire article anyway, as I usually do.

My knee-jerk reaction to these annual rankings is a mixture of amusement, annoyance, introspection, and a dismissive, “what do those idiots know” pout.

I am amused because of the use of subjective methodology; this is nothing more than a meaningless exercise. It probably helps sell copies of the magazine in parts of the country where Money needs better numbers. I am certain it allows chosen Chambers of Commerce to feel good about themselves. But my guess is that the excitement or the ire that is raised by the results evaporates quickly.

But I inevitably get annoyed because the place where my wife and I have chosen to call home is not on the list. Am I annoyed at our mayor and city council, the school system, my neighbors, the transit authority, the real estate investment community, and the retailers, or am I annoyed at my wife for wanting to live where we live?

I become introspective (read guilt-ridden) because maybe I don’t do enough or become more involved within the city to make a difference in how we are perceived. I become even more morose when I accept that I live where I live because I am not as bright or visionary as those who have chosen to live in communities such as Sugar Land, Texas (#3), Cary , N.C. (#5), Sterling Heights, Mich. (#37), Lincoln, Neb. (#60), or Fayetteville, Ark (#90).

I decide to dismiss the rankings as meaningless and those who put together the study as a bunch of idiots who probably have never been to the towns that they are ranking and will move on to their next writing assignment with no appreciation of the devastating blow they have dealt my psyche.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that competition is healthy. I further believe that there is value to comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of various communities. What I caution against is the conclusion that the “Top 90” communities in Money or other ranking communications paint the picture that these are stand-alone, self-sufficient pods of commerce, culture, education, entertainment and life experiences. Each of the rated cities is in fact a subset of, and dependent on, larger metropolitan areas or other institutions such as colleges and universities.

Finally, and this is the most important point, every community is what it is because of the people who live within the community, and what they decide they want that community to be. Through activism, investment, engagement, hard work and commitment, each and every community could qualify for someone’s “Best Place to Live.”

In the meantime, congratulations to the residents of Fort Collins, Colorado. I have never been to your fine city, but I am certain it’s a great place to live–as are Shaker Heights, Ohio; Birmingham, Michigan; and Oakmont, Pennsylvania; cities where I have spent the last 27 years of my life.