Strategic Alliance Not Trespassing On MPO Turf


    GRAND RAPIDS — When the West Michigan Strategic Alliance revealed its intentions to create a long-term plan to better position the region in the global marketplace, concerns arose that the fledgling group might stomp on the planning toes of the Grand Valley Metro Council and the area’s other metropolitan planning organizations.

    But that proves not to be the case — at least not with the Metro Council, now in its 11th year of serving as the local MPO. In fact, Metro Council Chairman Jim Buck felt that GVMC can help the Alliance attain its goals by giving the group useful information from its years of operation and sage advice from staff members who have been dealing with planning issues for most of their adult lives.

    “I don’t see the Alliance as being repetitious. I see that a lot of the work that the Metro Council has done over the years can be given to the Alliance and provide a lot of the information that they need,” said Buck, who is also mayor of Grandville and a member of the Alliance executive committee.

    Buck felt that the Metro Council could be especially helpful in the areas of infrastructure and transportation planning, the organization’s base. He also felt that GVMC staffers could provide valuable insights to half of the Alliance’s 10 Essential Activities committees, the core panels of the new group.

    “We tried real hard to get a cross-section of our staff people involved. I think the presence of our people in there can really help them out,” he said, while noting that Jerry Felix, Andy Bowman, Abed Itanti and Phil Lund were just a few GVMC staffers working with the Alliance committees.

    “We’re doing something that hasn’t been done by any another group, and it doesn’t invalidate those (MPOs),” said Jim Brooks, Alliance chair. “In fact, this effort will help the decision-making of those other groups become more effective over the long-term because it’s information we all need in order to do those other kinds of group functions.”

    Jay Peters, Alliance project administrator, said the new group is ideal for the MPOs, as it allows those organizations to share information with each other.

    “There is no effort right now for the MPOs to come together on a regional basis to talk about what they are doing,” he said before the arrival of the Alliance. “So I don’t see how that could be duplicated.”

    In forming the Alliance, Brooks said it was important to have all the region’s sectors on board — including the area’s MPOs — but not limited to professional planners.

    “This isn’t just about land-use planning or transportation planning, it’s about whole-community planning. So you have to deal with all aspects of the community,” he said. “So it’s trying to get a broad cross-section of the government, business, institutional sectors and also a very carefully selected group (of) types of people so we really have a good cross-section of the region to decide what we want our collective future to be.”

    The Alliance is made up of a mix of public officials, business executives and nonprofit directors from Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties. In a nutshell, the organization pledges to create a plan that will allow the region to compete effectively in the global economy in order to preserve the quality of life in West Michigan.

    To accomplish that, the Alliance feels that local jurisdictions have to make and accept decisions that are in the best interests of the region. That may not be an unattainable goal, but it is a tall order. Many of the area’s units are fiercely independent and resent being told what to do. As Buck knows, it’s hard to get these officials to agree on the big-picture projects.

    “It’s tough to get everybody on the same page,” said Buck. “There are those of us who certainly know how difficult this is and we continue to say we support this, we think there is value to it. But this is a difficult task, a very difficult task.”

    What if the Alliance, however, doesn’t get the cooperation it needs to succeed? Brooks said the region will fall behind the rest of the world, struggling to compete economically and to preserve the current prosperous lifestyle.

    “I think the world will continue to change dynamically and our economy will probably start to slip. I would guess that we will become increasingly less relevant to what’s happening in terms of the global economy. And I think we will find that as a region, we will be deploying our resources less effectively than other regions, who will start to do this and get their act together.”

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