Lakeshore Advantage spurs investment


Lakeshore Advantage, the economic development organization located in Zeeland, released its 2015 year-end review last week and highlighted a number of accomplishments that have contributed to Ottawa County as an economically robust region.

The nonprofit worked with 22 companies throughout the year to facilitate growth projects in West Michigan, resulting in nearly 780 new jobs and more than $180 million in private investment.

Lakeshore Advantage’s team also engaged with senior leaders from area employers through more than 300 one-on-one outreach and business intelligence-gathering sessions.

Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage, said it is important to track and measure its goals throughout the year, adding that Lakeshore Advantage’s ability to listen and respond to the business community is the secret to its success.

“Our work is very nimble, based on the needs of the business community,” said Owens. “We look at our business intelligence data, which is our face-to-face surveys that we do with more than 150 companies to determine where we put our resources, and how we can be most impactful to move our economy forward.”

Lakeshore Advantage uses an advanced database system each month to track projects it has helped facilitate in order to evaluate metrics such as jobs created and investment to the region. Owens said the organization proactively reaches out to companies to identify methods to keep moving the initiatives forward.

“We always have a running list of active projects or closed projects,” said Owens. “At the end of the year, we pull them all together.”

Another notable accomplishment was successfully launching and fully funding an investment campaign to support Lakeshore Advantage’s work. It launched the campaign due to the expansion of companies and communities the organization serves.

While many nonprofits and economic development organizations have a formal campaign every three to five years, Owens said it was the first time Lakeshore Advantage publicly set a goal for increasing investment with formalized levels of funding.

“Lakeshore Advantage has always just been funded based on word of mouth and continuing to maintain the investment base that we had from the very beginning,” said Owens. “For our organization, this is a big step forward and to go public with the investment has really helped to bring new investors, but also many of our existing investors increased their support, as well.”

The campaign led to 29 existing investors increasing their support and 32 new investors joining the organization’s investment base. The financial support resulted in a nearly 40 percent increase from $816,000 in 2014 to about $1.2 million in 2015, according to the 2015 Annual Investors Report.

While nearly 60 percent of Lakeshore Advantage’s support comes from the private sector, it also received support from Ottawa County through a challenge grant. The county pledged to double its support if the private sector provided $4 for every $1 of new investment, according to a press release.

Scott Spoelhof, managing partner of Bayside Capital and a Lakeshore Advantage investor, said generations of business leaders have made the community a great place to live and work.

“It is now up to our current business leaders to follow their example,” said Spoelhof.

For every $1 invested in the organization, nearly $175 was generated as new private investment in the region during 2015.

Lakeshore Advantage also connected entrepreneurial companies to more than 100 local resources; educated more than 200 professionals on start-up support services; and successfully completed a Smart Coast internship development program aimed at talent attraction.

More than 150 interns participated in the Michigan Smart Coast education and lifestyle summer series, which was held in partnership with the West Coast Chamber of Commerce; The Chamber of Commerce Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg; and Hello West Michigan.

“The Smart Coast is really a talent attraction brand,” said Owens. “The idea behind Smart Coast is to create a brand that can be utilized for any organization who is working to attract talent into the region.”

Since the Lakeshore Advantage’s board of directors merged with the Ottawa County Economic Development Office in January 2014, the organization has expanded its focus from Holland and Zeeland geographic boundaries to serve the entire county.

“The vision for that merger was a more robust economic development program for the county, and I think we have successfully implemented that,” said Owens.

One of its regional initiatives was to establish a Satellite SmartZone designation for the Holland area through a partnership with the Grand Rapids SmartZone. After a nearly year-long effort, about 1,000 acres of property along Lake Macatawa in the city of Holland and Holland Township was granted the designation. The Holland Satellite SmartZone is anticipated to generate about $7.5 million additional investment to early entrepreneurial efforts and infrastructure.

Craig Hall, chair of the Holland SmartZone LDFA board, said the zone is poised to engage the start-up ecosystem, and the partnership with the Grand Rapids SmartZone will “help catalyze an energized West Michigan start-up community.”

While the organization’s review outlined its work for the last year, Owens highlighted two specific projects as exciting accomplishments for 2015: working with Continental Dairy and Fairlife in Coopersville, and participating on a team to bring Agape Plastics to Tallmadge Township.

“Continental Dairy in Coopersville has really completely revitalized a former Delphi manufacturing facility that was closed for several years,” said Owens. “To work side-by-side with Continental Dairy and Fairlife to help them grow and expand every year for the past three years has been incredibly rewarding.”

Owens indicated the project can have a huge impact on the state and Midwest region since Continental Dairy produces powdered milk used in a number of food products.

The organization also engaged with representatives from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Department of Transportation, state senators and state representatives to attract Agape Plastics to the region.

David Cornelius, CEO at Agape Plastics, said Lakeshore Advantage brought together “resources needed to make our expansion project viable.” The expansion resulted in 54 new jobs in Tallmadge Township and generated more than $14 million in investment.

“The project took a true team to get it done,” said Owens. “If not for every member of that team, the company would likely have expanded in Toledo, putting the existing operations at risk.”

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