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September 16, 2014

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Members Present:          Gaffin, Clements, DeLuccia, Coughlin, DeBruyn, Gabrielse, Brandt, Zwarensteyn, VanderHeide
Members Absent:          
Others Present:                Lisa Golder, Economic Development Planner, Mayor Stephen Kepley
  1. Financial Report:  No financial report available for this month.
The minutes from August 11, 2014 were reviewed.
After discussion, a motion was made by Zwarensteyn with support from DeBruyn to approve the minutes of August 11, 2014.
                                                                                                                --Motion Carried—
  1. Website:
The EDC members discussed the website and the progress made. Lisa likes that there is a page devoted to economic development.The forms are in the “resources” section. The information found on the page is up to date.The demographic information that is in the “Business” tab is not as accurate.
Dave said that the forms are not easy to find.Mayor Kepley said we are looking to continue to improve the website to make it more user-friendly.There was more discussion on the website.Many municipal websites are not kept up to date with meetings and minutes.Lisa said that each member should go onto the website and see what can be improved. There was discussion on who on staff make the improvements. Lisa said that Joe Pung in Planning can make changes to the EDC page but changes to the main page have to be made by someone in the IT department.Lisa said that there were a couple of features that she saw on other communities’ websites regarding economic development. Grand Rapids has a “Starting a Business” checklist which goes through all steps needed to open a business in Grand Rapids.This would be a good tool to have on our website as well.Wyoming had a business directory which is a searchable database of the business license information provided to the city.This would be more difficult in Kentwood as many businesses do not fill out the forms completely.We have always had difficulty capturing information on websites and email.
The other feature that may be of value is a listing of the available commercial and industrial properties in the city.A link to the CAR or GRAR website would be easily accomplished.Other municipalities list the available sites on their website which may be more difficult or would require the city to be a member of CAR of GRAR.
  1. Farmers Market:
The EDC has approved the consulting fee for the Michigan Farmers Market Association to undertake a feasibility study for a market in Kentwood.  The kick off meeting was held on August 25th and we had good turnout.  We discussed the purpose of the market; one of the main themes was that the market would provide a community event or gathering place.  There was discussion about the role Horrocks could play in a farmers market.  Lisa said that the next step was to visit all the farm markets within 15 miles of the location.  We have already gone to about 10 of the markets and are collecting that information.  We will also be collecting data on income, ethnicity, and other factors.  This information may address the demand for a market.  MiFMA is looking at the supply side of the market, to make sure that there are vendors that may be interested in the market and what day.
There was a discussion about location.  One of the things the city has to do is to look at three different location s for the market.  Lisa said that we are looking at the city hall area, 52nd and Eastern Avenue and 28th Street at the mall.  Earl said the mall had the advantage of having traffic from 28th Street.  There would be less bike and pedestrian traffic, however.  
Bob Coughlin said that if Kentwood does decide that a market will work, a market manager is a necessity.
  1. EDC Strategic Plan
The EDC members discussed the Action Plan outlined in the proposed EDC Strategic Plan prepared by Williams and Works.The first segment reviewed was the Action Planning for Government Relations.The EDC discussed at length the goal of expanding the EDCs role as a conduit for community business relations. The EDC has used various strategies in the past to get this sort of input from the business community.One way has always been the business visitation program, which Lisa does with industry.The recommendations suggests that the EDC members could also go and visit the service providers, retailer and offices within the city to see if there are any issues with the city, or provide information on any programs that would be available.Tony said that this would not be very effective with the national retailers at the mall but would be effective with locally-owned businesses.
In the past the city has also sponsored the “business roundtable” to give businesses an audience with city officials to determine how the city can service the business community better. The EDC has also had educational seminars for businesses.It is hard to get businesses to attend events because they are so busy and pulled in so many different ways.Some do come to support the city.
Several years ago the EDC had sponsored a survey of the business community.Response had been fairly good even though the survey was completed by mail.Email may be a better tool.
Mayor Kepley gave an example of an issue for businesses and contractors: water frontage charges from the city of Grand Rapids.It would help businesses to have this issue resolved.These types of issues are the sort of thing that EDC may have an influence.
Other ways of communicating with businesses were discussed, including:
  • Meeting with business owners one on one
  • Combine efforts with organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce on issues such as legislative issues and concerns.  There was also discussion about lobbyists.
  • Gather information from sources (legislators) and reporting information to business community
  • Legislative luncheon-bring elected officials in to let them know what changes in legislation we would like to see, or issues that businesses have so that the legislators can be proactive.
  • Provide communication from business to government—identify issues and problems. Resolve issues and provide a dashboard to be transparent and show what has been done
  • Meet one on one for feedback—identify 20 different businesses—commercial, industrial, service, etc.  We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • Ask business leaders what we can do to change; include developers.  Should be cautious about the involvement of city officials for fear of retaliation on the next permit/project
  • Need a “hook” to bring them in; then can discuss other issues as well.
  • Do a survey—the survey could be anonymous.  Survey could be from EDC or from GVSU or a public relations firm.   If we do a survey it should be well-structured and professionally developed to make sure the questions are not biased and we get the information we are seeking.  It should also be clear that it is anonymous.
  • To this end Right Place is coming to speak to the Commission on October 21st.  We will ask for feedback on what we could be doing better.  Also EDC members are interested in hearing what the RPI has been doing in Kentwood.
Other things that the EDC may be able to work on to improve the business climate include:
  • Email owner that a permit is ready to be picked up
  • Issues with state such as DEQ and other regulatory issues
The meeting was adjourned.