Grand Haven launches business assistance program


Grand Haven is one of 18 Michigan communities that are part of the Michigan Main Street Program to increase local economic development. Courtesy Grand Haven MSDDA

Skilled professionals are volunteering their time to help business owners develop and grow their operations in downtown Grand Haven.

The Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority, an organization devoted to promoting economic development and revitalization, launched a new business assistance program last month to connect owners with a team of skilled professionals for support in maintaining or growing a business.

The program is available for both entrepreneurs and existing business owners located within the Grand Haven MSDDA’s district. Interested business owners are able to connect with a team of professional volunteers who specialize in different areas, including accounting, banking, business coaching, law and real estate.

Diane Larkin, executive director of Grand Haven MSDDA, said the program offers professional services that include evaluating return on investments, financial costs, merchandising placement, creative marketing and organization.

“We have some professionals in our community willing to do mentoring or some pro bono work for a couple of hours of business consulting or advisement. It is not reasonable to assume that every business owner will have all the skill sets needed to run a business,” said Larkin. “We help to fill in the blanks and help to fill those voids where we can offer the business assistance team to come in and help strengthen a business, or get it up and running.”

The program structure allows business owners to initiate a free consulting meeting with a volunteer professional. After the pro bono session is completed, business owners can seek out more in-depth advisement if they are interested in continuing their participation. All requests made to the Grand Haven MSDDA for a list of participating professionals are kept confidential.

“I think it is a wonderful tool that we have available in our economic development toolbox,” said Larkin. “We have resources and professionals willing to coach or mentor some of our businesses and we have this as a tool to be able to connect those professionals with businesses that need that type of assistance or are looking for that kind of assistance.”

Grand Haven’s MSDDA was encouraged by the Michigan Main Street Center a couple years ago to develop a team of professional volunteers specializing in various fields of business operations to strengthen existing businesses and recruit entrepreneurs. The Michigan Main Street Center is affiliated with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The recommendation was made to the Recruitment and Retention Committee within the Grand Haven organization, and when the project leader began approaching professionals, the feedback was extremely supportive, according to Larkin.

The Michigan Main Street Center released a 2012-2013 annual report highlighting the progress of 18 communities across the state since initially participating with the Michigan Main Street program. The report noted the total amount of public investment in 2013 in Grand Haven’s downtown district was more than $73,000, and more than $1.8 million was made in private investment.

Since 2005, the amount of private investment totals roughly $14.1 million, with more than 15 new businesses established in Grand Haven’s downtown district. Approximately 39 building façades were renovated, and more than 33,000 volunteer hours were put into the economic development initiative.

“I really believe it will be a tool that will help strengthen our existing businesses,” said Larkin. “Part of it is identifying the needs that we have from our businesses, and each one will be a little bit different. I’m very proud that we have been able to launch this, and we have already had a few people interested.”

The Grand Haven MSDDA’s four committees operate with the oversight of a governing board of city officials, business owners and community members. Encompassing Michigan Main Street program’s Four Point Approach, the committees include organization, promotions, recruitment and retention, and preservation and place. 

The Main Street Downtown Development Authority is headquartered at 20 N. Fifth St. It provides volunteer and sponsorship opportunities and a business resource guide in an effort to strengthen and attract businesses to the area.

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