The Right Place shares three-year plan

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The Right Place shared its economic development goals and strategic plan for the next three years.

The Grand Rapids-based economic development organization has a goal of spurring $548 million in investment by the end of 2022. The plan includes the goal of at least 5,050 new or retained jobs and $184 million in new or retained payroll.

New to its strategic plan, The Right Place included a goal that the jobs pay at least $26.35 per hour, 20% over the area’s current average hourly rate in the area. Also new is a goal of 2,900 assists, referring to the many ways staff provide talent connections and assistance to area companies and job seekers.

The plan was developed over the course of one year and included input from more than 100 area business leaders. The Right Place contracted Austin-based economic development consulting firm TIP Strategies to develop the plan.

In the previous three years, The Right Place spurred 5,192 new and retained jobs with a goal of 4,200; $309.5 million in new and retained payroll with a goal of $150 million; and $799.9 million in capital investment with a goal of $500 million.

Though the organization vastly outperformed those goals, President and CEO Birgit Klohs wanted to be sure the organization wasn’t too optimistic looking forward, considering any number of potential economic “headwinds” along the way: increased automation technology, continuous tariffs or something else, she said.

“That doesn't mean we're not going to work twice as hard to again pass those goals, but we also wanted to be realistic,” Klohs said. “So far, for 35 years, we have never missed a metric, so I don’t intend we would this time either.”

The Right Place plans to continue focusing on West Michigan’s strongest sectors of advanced manufacturing, information technology, health sciences, and food processing and agribusiness.

The organization expanded its services into rural areas surrounding Kent County and plans to strengthen efforts in the overall region with plans to hire a director of rural business development.

“If we don't represent all of the assets of West Michigan for a company that wants to come here or a talented individual who wants to move here, then we're missing the boat,” Klohs said.

The organization hired Brent Case in October to focus on attracting businesses from the Chicago area. With greater affordability, less congestion and an attractive arts and culture scene, The Right Place is optimistic companies will see the appeal of West Michigan.

As the role of an economic development organization expands to include such areas as talent attraction, for example, it plans to strengthen its presence in several areas besides its core business retention, expansion and attraction services.

As companies continue to voice concern about lack of talent, The Right Place and its in-house agency Hello West Michigan will continue talent development, retention and attraction efforts.

“We have a low unemployment rate, but we also have people out of work — people who have stopped looking,” Klohs said. Working with colleges and universities, part of the solution lies in getting those people the skills they need to get jobs again, she said.

The organization plans to focus more heavily on inclusive growth initiatives, working to ensure the area’s entire diverse population can share in the region’s economic success. The Right Place will continue collaborating with other organizations to ensure the inclusivity action takes place, Klohs said.

As part of this work, the organization already plans to establish the New Community Transformation Fund in partnership with Bank of America and the Consumers Energy Foundation.

Meant to support diverse business owners, the team will spend this year on design and development of the fund, including raising the goal of $15 million-$25 million in capital. With an aim to begin investing by 2021, the team primarily is interested in family offices, institutional investors, venture funding and corporate partners.

“In my mind, the community that tackles some of these issues is the community that wins,” Klohs said.

“We convene, we lead, but we need everybody to be part of this.”

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