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Jonathan Klooster of Grand Rapids' Economic Development Corp. told city commissioners the office is developing an economic gardening app that will connect entrepreneurs with the appropriate resources to help move their business ideas forward.
One of the app’s resources will be e-merge West Michigan, which offers entrepreneurs a host of services that include potential funding sources and a list of mentors. The Muskegon-based site offers assistance across five business stages, including a pre-entrepreneurial phase.
The other resource will be U.S. Source Link, which bills itself as the nation’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs. Klooster said the site only offers best practices.
“There are a huge number of resources available through the network," he said. "It’s a pretty powerful tool, and we’re looking forward to bringing that here to West Michigan on a regional basis."
EDC is collaborating on the app with the West Michigan Chamber Coalition.
“We look for the website to be sustainable. We really believe that the entrepreneurs in our area will choose to start their businesses here,” said Janet Wylie, vice president of business growth initiatives for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to developing the app, EDC is also trying to consolidate some city assets.
Klooster said the office has gone through a list of unwanted properties the city has picked up due to foreclosure and is now responsible to maintain. He said he is contacting neighboring property owners in an effort to sell those sites.
But he also said many are adjacent to rental properties and those landlords are more than happy to let the city mow those lawns.
“We have 185 lying around from the old days,” he said of the parcels still on the list.
City Manager Greg Sundstrom said years ago he was in charge of those properties, which are mostly small vacant parcels that can’t be built on but need to be maintained, and there were more than 800 then.
Klooster said he has contacted the Michigan Vacant Property Campaign, a Lansing-based nonprofit, for advice on what the city should do with those sites and he expects to get a few recommendations soon.
So far, he said EDC’s effort has cut about a third of the city’s annual cost, or $12,000, to maintain those properties.
“We’ve picked the low-hanging fruit,” he said. “There are very few that are buildable. We’ve engaged the (Kent County) land bank and they’re aware of what we’re trying to do.”