Green Investment – Economic Development and the Parks

Green Investment is an occasional series about the positive impact of Ottawa County parks on the quality of life in West Michigan, presented by the Ottawa County Parks Foundation. 

Parks Offer Green Enticement to Talent, Business

Dana Grassmid loved the mountains of Colorado in seven years living near Denver, but even their heights didn’t measure up to Lake Michigan and the outdoor spaces West Michigan has to offer.   

So, when her and husband Adam’s first child was young, they moved back to Ottawa County.

Sure, the primary reason was family.

“But part of it is the water. That was not something that was easily accessed in Colorado,” said Dana Grassmid, an architect with Lucid Architecture in Zeeland. “We missed the lake and all the opportunities that the water here provides. We always said we loved the mountains, but nothing replaces Lake Michigan for us.”

Those kinds of words bring a smile to Ottawa County-area business leaders and recruiters: Ottawa’s investment in parks and green spaces is a big differentiator in recruiting business and young professional talent to West Michigan.

“Tackle talent challenges” is a core focus for Lakeshore Advantage, the regional economic development agency. Its survey found that 

55 percent of area business report barriers to growth, and, of those, 49 percent said the most significant barrier is finding enough employee talent, reported Emily Staley, the agency’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“Can I keep talent here? Will my engineers want to live here and raise their family here? Can we recruit young professionals here, and how do we do that?” are the questions businesses ask.

“It comes full circle to the talent. If you have the talent here, you can maintain the businesses that you have and attract new ones,” Staley continued. “And we really feel that having great recreation amenities like the parks helps to do that.  It’s all about community and connecting to community, in the end, and parks are a huge part of that. “

So, park images and information, like pictures of the dog beach at Kirk Park, work their way into attraction proposals presented by Lakeshore Advantage.

“Lake Michigan is our huge differentiator, but really the access that every community in our area has to a great Ottawa County or local park system is very attractive to young professionals,” Staley said.

Grassmid and her family love the water, be it the Big Lake beach or paddle boarding on the Pigeon River at Hemlock Crossing. They use a lot of the parks in the course of a year. She and Adam fat tire bike on a choice of trails. The whole family bikes at Riley Trails, or takes hammocks, blankets and a picnic for a day of imagination adventures in the woods.

Grassmid understands how the green resources can help attract people.

“Any recreational activity that you enjoy, there’s opportunity to do that here in West Michigan, and that can be really enticing,” she said. Beyond recreation, the changes of seasons add a great variety of outdoor beauty at the parks.

The area’s commitment to stewarding natural resources, such as the efforts of the Ottawa County Parks Foundation, is another attractor for young professionals, Staley noted. “For the younger generation and young professionals, these issues of our environment and where we live and how we are stewards of the resources we have, are very important.”

She cited a Brookings Institute analysis of census data that addressed the things young professionals seek in a place to live. Many return to midsize cities, realizing the place they left a decade or more before has become cool, with craft breweries, little traffic, apartments – and yes, parks.

“They’re having kids now. They want places that have green spaces, that have recreational opportunities. So, these things are very important for a region to have,” Staley said.

“When we can all work together and make sure that all of the assets are there, then they can really see themselves living and working, growing and playing in the community.”

SIDEBAR:

Parks offer office escapes, too

Ottawa County Parks offer another perk for businesses and employees: Great places to escape the office. “One other thing we’ve noticed our parks do really well,” said Emily Staley of Lakeshore Advantage, “is when employers want to take a team on a retreat, there are great opportunities.” The Lakeshore Advantage team has had a retreat at the Grand Ravines Lodge and done team building kayaking on the Grand River at Connor Bayou. “How great is it to reset and get into an environment that is so peaceful. You can really be creative and disconnect from the other tasks you might have, and also connect with your team,” Staley said.

Some favorite places where businesses can hold retreats are the Lodge at Grand Ravines, the Weaver House at Pine Bend, and the Woodland Cabin at Connor Bayou. Go to www.miottawa.org/Parks/amenities.htm for an interactive search of what’s available at Ottawa Parks.

Green resources like those help make Ottawa County a great place to work and do business, Staley pointed out. “For team building, for retreats, strategic planning sessions and those kinds of activities, employers can really benefit from using some of the assets that we have here.”

This article was published in the Holland Sentinel on September 10, 2018.