GRAND RAPIDS — As the nation’s political and macroeconomic climate changes, The Right Place Inc. says it needs to adapt how it measures its impact.
The Grand Rapids-based regional economic development group unveiled the details of its three-year strategic plan this week. The new strategy includes a focus on tracking its business support systems and viewing the region’s design capacity as part of its talent attraction and retention efforts.
President and CEO Birgit Klohs said it’s important for the organization to look beyond traditional metrics even as it sets ambitious goals related to its long-time economic development mission. The Right Place’s 36-month strategic plan calls for 4,200 new or retained jobs, $150 million in new or retained payroll and $500 million in new capital investment.
Additionally, the organization aims to put more focus on measuring its success in assisting small and medium-sized West Michigan companies with various administrative issues and with challenges that may arise with municipalities.
“Many people think all economic development is bricks and mortar,” Klohs said. “But a lot of economic development doesn’t necessarily wind up in a new building.”
Klohs and other Right Place executives concede that given ongoing trends toward automation, private investment will continue to be more geared toward equipment and facilities as opposed to adding headcount.
To meet its job metrics, the organization needs to broaden its scope more than it has in the past. In recent years, executives note they’ve witnessed job creation numbers slipping despite working on more economic development projects with higher capital investments.
“We know that to get to that number, you’re just going to have to do more projects,” said Tim Mroz, vice president for marketing and communications at The Right Place. “It puts more burden and onus on us. We have to have more irons in the fire to hit that goal than we ever have before.”
Moreover, they remain concerned about challenges to the region’s manufacturing jobs in the years to come, particularly as the nature of jobs in the industry evolves.
“The jobs we are seeing might be less in number, but they’re higher in content,” Klohs said. “That’s the big rub. Manufacturing still adds an enormous amount to the GDP of this country. But what people are hankering for are the good old days where there’s 1,000 jobs attached to a particular project. That happens very rarely anymore. There are exceptions.”
Given West Michigan’s growth in upstart industries such as life sciences and food processing, Klohs remains bullish on the group’s prospects for encouraging job creation in the region.
“We have a very diversified basket now, whereas 20 years ago it would have been all manufacturing. Obviously, that’s still very big,” Klohs said. “But over the 20 years since life sciences started coming in, that’s become huge. You have talent coming in … that we would have never had. It’s more balanced and not as lopsided as it used to be.”
MiBiz reporter John Wiegand contributed to this report.