Muskegon Agency Is Taking Stock

    MUSKEGON — The pending departure of Muskegon Area First’s executive director provides the economic development agency a chance for self-examination.

    After directors hire a successor to Todd Battle, who leaves at the end of the month for a position in Kenosha, Wis., they’ll examine whether any alterations are needed in Muskegon Area First’s structure and role, said Nancy Crandall, the mayor of Norton Shores who chairs the personnel committee for the organization’s board of directors.

    Directors hope to have Battle’s successor on board within two months. Afterward, directors will work with the new executive director to examine Muskegon Area First’s original goals and future direction, Crandall said.

    “It’s a perfect opportunity,” said Crandall, Muskegon Area First’s immediate past chairwoman. “It’s a good time to revisit the goals, see what’s been accomplished and if there’s anything else we need to be doing.”

    A public-private partnership, Muskegon Area First was formed in 1999 after the former Muskegon Economic Growth Alliance dissolved. Battle, a Reed City native who previously worked in the Upper Peninsula, was hired as the first executive director and is widely credited with pulling together participating interests to build up Muskegon Area First and the organization’s programming and active role in the business community.

    Battle played a key role in helping the city of Muskegon secure a SmartZone designation from the state in 2001 for the Edison Landing high-tech commerce and residential park being developed along Muskegon Lake and, in conjunction, creating The Whetstone Project, a business incubator.

    Under his watch, Muskegon Area First has assisted in several economic development projects and created a manufacturing council for local industries.

    “We are sorry to see him go, obviously, but we knew it was coming some day because he’s a very talented young man,” Crandall said.

    Muskegon Area First directors began searching for Battle’s successor immediately. Adding some urgency to the process is the departure last week of Gary Nelund, Muskegon Area First’s technology director who ran the business incubator, and staffer Laura Kroger, who leaves in May to enter graduate school.

    “We want to get at this promptly,” Crandall said.

    In Wisconsin, Battle will lead the Kenosha Business Alliance, an organization with a budget about three times the size of Muskegon Area First’s and twice the staff. Battle was not looking to leave Muskegon and was approached by an executive search firm about the position in Kenosha, a community along Lake Michigan that’s located about 30 miles south of Milwaukee and 50 miles north of Chicago.

    After examining the prospect, Battle found in Kenosha a community that “allocates substantial resources to their economic development initiatives,” such as revolving loan funds, and an organization that meets his professional skills and desires, he said.

    “It became a great opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Battle, whose last day in Muskegon is March 31, one day shy of his fourth anniversary at Muskegon Area First.     

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