100-day challenge identifies issues

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A 100-day challenge to address overall livability issues in Muskegon is coming to a close.

The goal of the challenge is to create plans to ensure residents have the opportunity to achieve economic self-sufficiency, allowing not only the community to thrive but also all individual residents and families. In doing so, the group said it wanted to acknowledge the “big, interconnected picture,” rather than focus on individual issues.

Led by the Community Health Innovation Region, the challenge is a collaboration between several organizations, including Mercy Health, United Way of the Lakeshore, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, Muskegon Community College and the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District. Muskegon CHIR is a federal- and state-funded initiative that has worked toward the goal of improving population health and Muskegon County for three years.

Mary MacDonald, director of Muskegon CHIR, said the goal was for residents to have a major part in the discussion. She said CHIR talked to 340 community residents during its initial research.

“And people talk about feeling disconnected,” MacDonald said. “They also talked about having huge pride and wanting to know their neighbors and being engaged.”

The 100-day challenge kicked off with a daylong workshop Sept. 10 called Livability Lab, where 140 attendees convened to identify and initiate strategies that confront barriers to upward mobility and well-being for residents and growth for local business and enterprise.

The summit was meant to align attendees around a specific vision and identify all the various factors that get in the way of achieving that vision.

At the event, 19 teams formed to brainstorm and tackle issues that have come to the forefront, focusing on such solutions as building a neighborhood association council in Muskegon Heights, creating a youth mentorship network, strengthening child care, increasing financial literacy and assessing the local housing stock. The teams each were led by local coaches trained through Michigan State University.

The group led by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce focused on strengthening minority business opportunities, said Carla Flanders, VP of marketing for the chamber.

The group of 15 people includes chamber staff, Muskegon Area First and minority-owned business leaders.

The group first identified minority-owned businesses. Then, the group reached out to the businesses to understand their needs for growth and promotion. Reaching out to 25 local and regional entities to gather more data, the group was able to identify 151 minority-owned businesses, Flanders said.

“In my opinion, this work is not done. This is not something that's going to end after this 100-day challenge,” Flanders said. “This is something that we as a community are committed to identifying and to help support and grow minority-owned businesses.”

Chamber staff also helped throughout the process to ensure well-rounded livability plans at the end of the 100 days.

“Livability is of interest to us because it's a critical component in attracting and retaining talent,” said Cindy Larsen, Muskegon chamber president. “Connecting people is part of our mission.”

MacDonald said having the chamber involved is particularly important because of the connection to jobs.

The teams will reconvene Jan. 23 for a one-day summit celebration where they will report on their progress. The event is 8-11:30 a.m. at The Folkert Community Hub, 640 Seminole Road in Norton Shores. Attendance registration, with a Jan. 15 deadline, is available online at livabilitylab.com.

Local and state funders and investors are invited to attend the summit to learn about how their goals may align with the strategies teams bring forward.

Members of Michigan’s State Innovation Model team attended the first event, and a film crew from Public Sector Consultants in Lansing is now in the process of creating a short documentary highlighting Livability Lab and the challenge teams. A first peek of the film will be shown at the Jan. 23 event.

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