HOLLAND — He grew up in Holland, went to college in Holland, and has spent most of his career in Holland.
Over the years, Jay Peters has watched the town and the surrounding landscape change dramatically.
Holland, Peters recently told a Holland Area Chamber of Commerce gathering, “is not the community I grew up in.”
Nor is the broader region that includes Ottawa, Kent and Muskegon counties that same place it was years ago. The area stretching from Grand Rapids to Holland and up the shoreline to Muskegon has for years experienced rapid growth and faces new pressures as it evolves into a metropolitan region that now has more than 1.1 million residents.
Peters, 43, is on the forefront of an effort to examine where that growth will lead West Michigan in the future, and how communities and business leaders can best cope with, plan for and manage it.
“What are those things that have made us so successful and how do we preserve them? We need to participate in the definition of those issues and, hopefully, have a hand in solving them,” said Peters, project administrator for the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, a public-private initiative established to position the region for the future.
Peters, owner of Development Strategies Inc., a Holland firm that provides fund-raising consulting and interim project management to clients, hooked up with the West Michigan Strategic Alliance in 1999.
At the time he was working with a group that was backing the development of a $28 million sports and entertainment complex in Holland, called the Area Center. Peters led a private fund-raising campaign that netted $11.4 million in donations to offset the public cost to develop the Area Center, a project that never came to fruition. The project failed in a November 1999 ballot proposal.
Peters’ involvement in the Area Center as project manager led to his role with the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, an effort whose founders includes Jim Brooks. The one-time chief executive of the former Brooks Beverage Co. in Holland, Brooks led private-sector efforts to develop and support the Area Center proposal.
The Strategic Alliance became one of the first clients for Development Strategies, which Peters formed in July 1999 after leaving the Breton Group, where he served as vice president of the Grand Rapids fund-raising consultant.
Peters was driven to start his own company by both professional and personal reasons.
Professionally, he saw a growing need in the Holland area for a consulting service that helped non-profit organizations manage a special project or raise money for large capital projects.
“Preparing for capital campaigns, preparing to take organizations to the next level, requires an amount of time they currently don’t have,” Peters said. “More times than not, when an organization calls a fund-raising firm and says it wants to raise money, when you analyze it, you find out they’re not quite where they need to be to start the process.
“People come together where they have the vision, but they need somebody or some organization to help them with the day-to-day details,” he said.
Such is the case with the Holland Windmill Chorus, which retained Development Strategies to manage a campaign to renovate the Park Theater near downtown Holland. Peters, just prior to forming the company, also helped to raise $2 million for Herrick Library in Holland.
He also counts among his clients Good Samaritan Ministries and the Ottawa Shores Humane Society.
On a personal level, Peters wanted to spend less time traveling on business and more time with his family and being involved in the community through fund-raising activities. The sudden deaths of three siblings also brought Peters to the crossroads, he said.
“It made decisions much easier, just because of a different perspective of what’s important and what’s not,” said Peters, the father of a 5-year-old daughter.
Prior to his six years with the Breton Group, Peters spent seven years as director of advancement at Hope College, a position he landed through contacts he made while working as a sales manager at a local import car dealer following his 1980 graduation from Hope with degrees in geology and economics.
His ties to his hometown have led Peters to become far more involved in the community than on a professional level. His community service includes chairing the City of Holland’s successful 1996 effort to earn designation as an “All-America City,” and a position on the city’s Historic District Commission.
“I have basically such an interest in my own community,” he said.
That interest is served well by his professional pursuits in helping community organizations pursue their goals and matching them with the philanthropic community, Peters said. His work, he said, provides him a “real sense of accomplishment.”
“We all contribute in different ways,” Peters said. “I don’t think I’ll ever have the ability to write a $100,000 check to somebody. But we do have the ability to make it happen for those organizations.”