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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 14:23

Q&A: Nancy DeBoer, Mayor, City of Holland

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Nancy DeBoer Nancy DeBoer

As the newly-elected mayor of the city of Holland, Nancy DeBoer looks forward to 2016 as a year when the city and the broader region can help its business community to grow, attract and retain a skilled workforce, particularly for the “robust” manufacturing industry. Moreover, she says that Holland will continue to move forward with some significant infrastructure projects she hopes will lead to quality-of-life improvements.

What is your economic outlook for the city of Holland in 2016?

I think the business climate is really robust. We’ve got this region that has the lowest unemployment in the state. We’ve had great growth in manufacturing. We have like three times the concentration of manufacturing than national numbers. It is going very, very well.

What keeps you up at night?

I would say the one pause on the horizon is the need for talent, which is a great problem to have. That’s pretty much across the board. Industries are telling us they need entry-level production people, skilled trades people, engineering people. There’s a lot going on and we need to keep working to get people attracted to relocating to our region. We’re also working on keeping college students here.

What steps are you taking to do that?

We have a big internship program. We’re even working with the K-12 kids so they know how and what jobs are in demand and they get a feeling for what is going on with the employers in the area. As kids, you just drive by the buildings and you don’t really know what’s happening inside.

What is city government’s role in assisting with workforce development?

With the city, we’ve been involved with the Future Prep Program (part of Ottawa Area Intermediate School District). You take students from different area schools and we give them problems. The businesses also participate in this. It’s a real-life problem that your business or city is experiencing. Then the students work together to figure out how could they help solve this problem. They give presentations on it. That’s been really exciting because you see these high school kids grappling with issues that adults are grappling with. They’ve come up with some good ideas.

Can you share an example of an idea they developed?

This past summer, they had an issue with Van Raalte Farm and its development — what would they recommend for how to get that better developed and welcome more people. They decided that a great thing would be to have weddings there. They produced a brochure, had a budget. They solved all kinds of issues on the way to hosting a wedding there and that was a lot of fun. I think it was a great way for them to feel like we can have a significant voice in what happens.

Many cities and townships have faced declining revenues and other budget problems in recent years. Is that a concern in the city of Holland?

When we hired our current city manager, Ryan Cotton, about three years ago, he started with a list of about 50 cuts and then everytime someone retired we absorbed the position. Now things are going better. We have Proposal A, which holds back the amount of tax revenue that we can be given as things grow. You can plummet as fast as things are plummeting, but you can’t climb back up. … That holds us back somewhat (but) we feel as though we are in a way, way better place than we were then.

What’s the status of the new power plant facility the city is building?

That’s going to be awesome. They’re working and on-schedule last I heard. The date to really start is February 2017. We’re still using the James DeYoung plant right now, but we’ll be shutting that down and using that as possible capacity. The numbers aren’t coming back too profitably for hanging on to that as a source to potentially sell power to other places. We’re really rethinking all that right now.

What are some things that the new power plant will provide to the city?

We’ve been busy all summer turning up 8th Street and putting new piping down Central Avenue in order to have snow-melt capacity down the center spine of the city, which is very exciting. They had to stop at 19th Street, but we’ll be starting back up after Tulip Time next year to try and finish that to the Commons of Evergreens. The new power plant (should) increase our snow-melting capacity by about 35 percent, which is great and it’s such a desired amenity nowadays in Holland. We’re thrilled about that.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.

Read 2583 times Last modified on Monday, 11 January 2016 13:02

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