City creates economic development department


Jake Eckholm. Courtesy city of Muskegon Heights

A city in the region has created and staffed an economic development department.

The city of Muskegon has hired or appointed three area government employees to lead its economic development efforts.

Previously, the city contracted services with Muskegon County, according to Frank Peterson, Muskegon City Manager.

“Investing in economic development is an important step in the city’s long-term vision of sustainable growth and job creation,” Muskegon Mayor Stephen Gawron said.

LeighAnn Mikesell, current director of municipal services, is leading the department, shifting her leadership responsibilities from the public works department to focus on leading economic development, planning and community development.

Jake Eckholm, former Muskegon Heights city manager, last week began in the newly created role of economic development director for Muskegon, primarily focusing on job creation through industrial retention, expansion and attraction. Eckholm was previously city manager for the city of Stanton and village of Lakeview. He holds a B.A. in political science from Grand Valley State University.

Peter Wills, former chief of staff to former State Senator Geoff Hansen, this week is taking the new role as Muskegon’s director of strategic initiatives. His primary focuses will be on completing city projects, including the acquisition and redevelopment of the former West Shoreline Correctional Facility, the cleanup and redevelopment of the former Sappi site and the completion of more than $100 million of proposed downtown development projects. He is pursuing an M.P.A. from Western Michigan University and holds a B.S. from Michigan State University.

Mike Franzak, long-time Muskegon planning director, will continue in his role, now reporting to Mikesell.

“A professional, competent and confident team will be greatly appreciated by commercial and industrial developers and business owners looking to relocate to or expand in Muskegon,” said Cindy Larsen, president, Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

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