GRAND RAPIDS — In the spirit of collaboration and partnership, the $15 million Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development grant is encouraging and enabling seven counties in West Michigan to work together to bring positive change to the area economy.
The grant, known as WIRED, is part of President George W. Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative. West Michigan is one of 13 regions across the nation chosen from 97 proposals to receive part of the $195 million allotted for the initiative. Michigan is the only state to receive two of the grants, with the other going to the Lansing-Flint-Saginaw area.
It is an investment in the area work force, said Greg Northrup, president of the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, the organization that applied for the grant. Though the grant will not be a quick fix for employment issues, Northrup said it will help build a way to ensure the future of the region’s economy and jobs.
“We’re the ones who are going to lead the way,” he said.
The four categories of innovation that will be addressed by the grant are market intelligence, work-force system transformations, enterprise development and InnovationWORKS, a program in partnership with The Right Place Inc. to “catalyze, support and sustain strategies to support innovation in our regional economy.”
Northrup said the alliance’s collaborations during the past few years have set the groundwork for many future projects in the area.
“WIRED is just one example of what we were able to do, because we were already collaborating,” he said.
One of the 12 initiatives is underway, showing the fruits of collaboration between The Right Place Inc., Lakeshore Advantage and Grand Rapids Community College.
InnovationWORKS, administered by The Right Place, has been approved by the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth and has an advisory council — chaired by David Van Andel, chairman and CEO of the Van Andel Institute — under development. The council will include members from throughout the seven counties covered in the grant. Brian Walker, president and CEO of Herman Miller Inc., already has been appointed to the panel.
The initiative has four components: commercialization infrastructure; a design council that will involve the partnership of Lakeshore Advantage; innovation forums; and innovation curriculums through a partnership with GRCC.
“We think there really is a continuum of assisting innovative ideas, both from existing and potentially new companies that need a host of assistance that we really want to help them with,” said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place.
Klohs said that in addition to assisting companies in developing products and processes, the project will also help teach about innovation itself.
Newly formed advisory groups for the other 11 initiatives should be seeing movement soon, and include diverse focus areas such as emerging sector skills analysis, global supply chain analysis, economic development and knowledge workers, innovation curriculum, regional manufacturing skills cooperative, work keys and work-based learning, manufacturing skills standards, regional tri-sector work-force development initiative, global school and accelerated engineering, health care regional skills alliance and an entrepreneurial league system, with more collaboration to take place.
The initiatives will soon be developed into prototypes and business plans, which will then be reviewed by the WIRED policy council.
WIRED has found a new project manager in Phil Rios, the former development director of the West Michigan Creative Arts and Technology Center, who has extensive experience in both the private and nonprofit sectors. In his role as project manager, Rios acts as a liaison between the innovation champions leading each section of the project and overseeing the different sections, connecting the programs and making adjustments as necessary.