This week we continue our series of blog posts highlighting the awards recipients for the 2014 Hometown Heroes Celebration hosted by the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Each year the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, May 1 from 6:00PM-10:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.
Story by Marjorie Steele
In February of 1917, Kent County resident Mrs. Caroline Campbell received a telegram instructing her to establish a local chapter of the American Red Cross. That same month, Caroline assembled the first meeting of the American Red Cross of Kent County, and by July of that same year, the chapter had amassed over 37,000 contributing members.
Each year, the American Red Cross West Michigan Region recognizes one individual or organization with a Community Impact Award that carries on Caroline Campbell’s legacy of affecting extraordinary positive change in the community. This year, the economic development non-profit the Right Place is being highlighted for its pioneering work in West Michigan’s economy, and for the measurable and positive change it has brought about in the lives of people living here.
The aptly named “Right Place”has served West Michigan for nearly thirty years as a non-profit economic developer. In that time, the Right Place has assisted thousands of local companies, has affected the investment of over $3 billion in capital and has spurred the creation of over 40,000 jobs. In 2013 alone, this powerhouse nonprofit worked with nearly 1,700 companies, supported $102 million in new investment and helped create or retain over 2,500 jobs.
The Right Place has been led by President and CEO Birgit Klohs since 1987, just two years after its founding. Having worked in economic development in West Michigan for nearly thirty years, Birgit’s dedication to the region’s growth has spurred the Right Place to keep our local economy thriving, through prosperity and recession.
To learn more about this organization, we dug deeper into the organization’s mission and values with VP Tim Mroz.
How would you describe the Right Place’s vision for West Michigan?
The Right Place, and our board of directors, share a common vision for creating long-term, sustainable economic growth here in West Michigan. We want this to be a region where freedom and independence can be gained through quality employment opportunities.
Can you give a few specific examples of our communities’growth over the past thirty years?
One look at downtown Grand Rapids, and you get a sense for the tremendous economic progress West Michigan has made over the last three decades. Our businesses have grown and diversified, our quality of life has improved, and our ability to work together in a private-public collaborative spirit has strengthened.
What are a few examples the Right Place’s programs and initiatives which have led to positive change here in West Michigan?
Over the past few years, the Right Place has led an effort to establish a 13-country economic development collaborative in West Michigan. This is the first time in our region’s history that a region this large has been able to come together under the common vision of spurring economic growth throughout all our counties – not just in our urban hubs.
What did the Right Place do in 2013 which has had the biggest impact?
One of our largest and more recent projects is a good example of the impact economic development can have on a community. That work was successfully retaining Spartan Stores, which are now SpartanNash. When we first heard about Spartan’s plans to merge with Nash Finch, we knew it would mean a lot of change for Spartan Stores in West Michigan. At the time, we weren’t sure whether that change would be good or bad, we simply knew something big was on the horizon.
We began to meet with the Spartan executive team, and we learned a few important things: 1) as a publicly traded company, the deal was by no means a “slam dunk”, and 2) our competitor would be Minneapolis, a bigger city with arguably more resources and assets.
We wasted no time putting together a team of local and state resources, the governor’s office, workforce development support, and everything else we could possibly do to assemble the most competitive business incentive and support package possible.
The results were an astounding win for West Michigan. Today, we’re proud that 620 jobs are still here in the region, and 372 new jobs will be coming to our community over the next three years.