Birgit Klohs, the dean of economic developers in West Michigan and across the state, plans to retire after more than three decades of leading The Right Place Inc.
Klohs departs Jan. 31, 2021, as president and CEO of the organization she has led for 33 years and built into one of the premiere economic development agencies in Michigan.
“When my father, Jay, founded The Right Place, he imagined it would become a powerhouse organization driving economic development in West Michigan,” Dave Van Andel, chairman and CEO of the Van Andel Institute, said in a statement. “But we all realize now that it has exceeded all expectations. I believe Birgit’s leadership has made The Right Place the premier regional economic development organization in the country. It is the envy of communities nationally and the example everyone tries to emulate.
“I’ve had the privilege of serving with Birgit on The Right Place board for many years and have watched its impact on West Michigan. I can say with assurance, my father would be very pleased with what The Right Place has accomplished.”
Directors at The Right Place have begun an immediate nationwide search to find a successor. The Right Place has retained Korn Ferry, a Los Angeles-based management consulting firm with offices around the world, to manage the search process.
“Birgit has set an extraordinarily high bar of performance in her role with the Right Place, Inc.,” said Sean Welsh, chair of The Right Place Board of Directors and regional president of PNC Bank. “As a board, our responsibility will be to find someone who can build on the great economic foundation set in place by Birgit.”
Under Klohs’ leadership, The Right Place worked with state and local leaders and business executives to drive more than $5 billion in economic investment in the region that generated more than 50,000 jobs.
Klohs, whose tenure at The Right Place started in 1987 and covers the terms of five Michigan governors, has been at the table for several major initiatives and projects in Grand Rapids, often working to drive collaboration and partnerships among various parties that included private and public interests.
They include Michigan State University relocating the College of Human Medicine from East Lansing, creation of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, formation of the Hello West Michigan collaborative that seeks to draw talent to the region, and most recently the formation venture capital fund that’s working to raise $25 million to invest in companies owned by racial and ethnic minorities and address issues of economic inclusion.
“None of our economic success would have been possible without the passion and vision of our business community and government leaders,” Klohs, a German immigrant, said in a statement announcing her retirement. “I consider it a great privilege to have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of dedicated people to build a prosperous future for decades to come. But more than that, my love for this community and this organization made this decision the most difficult I’ve ever made. It is equal to how I felt when I left my parents at the Frankfurt airport, never to return to Germany except to visit.”
Klohs over the years has chaired or served on several boards such as Grand Action, Spectrum Health, the Gerald R. Ford Airport Authority, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and chaired the board of trustees at her alma mater, Western Michigan University.
“Finally, please know that I’m not going away or even slowing down. I will continue to be active serving this community on boards and through philanthropic efforts,” Klohs said. “We have such a strong team at The Right Place, and they’re responsible for so much of our success. I sincerely thank and honor them for their expertise.
“And the leadership in this community is second to none. The people make West Michigan what it is, and our corporate and government leaders have always been there for us.”
Today’s announcement of Klohs’ planned retirement was filled with high praise from top business leaders in Grand Rapids for her role in the region’s economic growth and vitality.
“Birgit has truly been the North Star of economic investment in West Michigan,” said Dick DeVos, co-founder and president of the Windquest Group. “When you combine her economic development work with her work as a part of Grand Action and see what is now one of the most vibrant downtowns anywhere, it’s easy to understand the dramatic impact she has had. She has strategically guided us to a stronger and more prosperous future in Michigan by turning economic ideas into people-centered reality.”
The buildup of the Medical Mile health care, biomedical research and education cluster over the last two decades “could not have happened without Birgit’s relentless drive,” said Spectrum Health CEO Tina Freese-Decker. “She merged vision, opportunity and passion to change the economic future of the city.”
And Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said the city “would not be the beacon of business activity that it is today were it not for the passion and drive of Birgit Klohs.”