By Dean Whittaker

Coming together for “the common good” has long been one of the Holland/Zeeland, Michigan area’s strengths. Rather than asking ourselves the question,”What’s in it for me?” I found our community asking the question, “What’s in it for us?”

I have seen many instances of this “common good” over the years that I have lived here. A few examples include The Holland/Zeeland Foundation, the snow-melt system, the new International Baccalaureate Degree, and our hospitals. Further, our well-run municipal governments, the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, our Chambers of Commerce, and our economic development effort, Lakeshore Advantage, also convey the sense of this collective well-being and of a caring community.

In his book “Out of Solitude, “ Henry Nouwen describes what it means to care. He says to really care is to enter into someone’s pain. It means to sit with a friend while they grieve the loss of a brother or sister, wife or husband, child or parent. It means to be there while they go through and experience the pain. Currently, we are facing some of the most difficult and challenging economic times that we’ve seen in our lifetime. A decline in our manufacturing base, retail vacancies, family stress, and layoffs has been our shared experience of the past few years. Together we share the pain, but together we also create the “common good.”

Through our community’s collective effort, several new initiatives have been launched. A few years ago, I witnessed 50-60 community leaders sit in what was then the Pfizer auditorium and hear an opportunity regarding the possible donation of the former Pfizer R&D; Laboratory facility to Michigan State University. Out of that community effort came the MSU Biomass Research Institute.

Diversity of thought is critical to new ideas and innovation. Our economic future depends on our ability to compete in a global market place of ideas. A continuing effort is underway to promote our community as an open and accepting community for new ideas. By showing that our community can have a conversation around controversial issues without fear of losing our moral compass demonstrates to the world that we have the capacity to openly discuss ideas, even those that may challenge our belief system. It lets those with view different from ours to share them and to provide a culture in which new ideas are valued, shared, and developed further.

The NewNorth Center for Design in Business was formed this year for the benefit of all of us. Its objective is to teach us a new way of thinking that will stimulate innovation in our products and services. This new non-profit organization is structured to provide West Michigan companies with unprecedented access to new concepts in design thinking in order to give them a competitive advantage as they compete globally. This innovative effort will help transform our local economy in ways we have yet to imagine.

Lastly, while attending the Lakeshore Advantage Annual meeting, I heard a story about how over the past year more than 50 people came together to put our best foot forward in the highly competitive effort to attract new business to our area, providing much needed jobs. While the outcome of that effort has yet to be determined, the fact that people in our community came together for “the common good” was evident in the selfless way in which each person played a role and gave of their time and talent that we all might live a more prosperous life.

Together, we will overcome the challenges of these economic times. “This, too, shall pass” by caring, sharing, trusting and risking. Let us all be mindful of sharing what we have for “the common good.”