Archive for the ‘WMSA’ Category

Listen to Internship Project Manager, Cindy Brown, on the Tony Gates show (1340 AM – WJRW) at 2:00 PM today.   Check it out and let us know what you think!


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WEST MICHIGAN, October 27, 2010—As part of its ongoing Green Infrastructure Initiative, and in collaboration with the Land Information Access Association and the Michigan Association of Planning, the West Michigan Strategic Alliance has launched a ‘Tool Shed’ – an online collection of green infrastructure planning and preservation best practice tools.  The address for the Green Infrastructure Tool Shed is: http://www.greentoolshed.org/

A green infrastructure tool is a resource that informs or helps planning officials make decisions about managing the six types of environments that are the focus of the Green Infrastructure Initiative: shorelines, forests, farmland, watershed, biodiversity, or green urban space. Tools include documents, checklists, model ordinances, booklets, websites, and programs. Users are encouraged to submit tools that they have used or developed, so that best practices may be shared throughout the region. 

“The Tool Shed provides examples of what has worked, challenges faced, sample documents and templates, and general information about the preservation of environmental assets,” says Elaine Sterrett Isely, WMSA Green Infrastructure project manager. “The site will help local and regional decision-makers as well as the general public to preserve, protect, and manage our valued outdoor features in West Michigan.”

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Michigan is now #1 in the U.S. for Rail to Trail miles with  2,478 miles, followed by Minnesota  2,309 miles, and Wisconsin coming in at 3rd with 1,788 miles.

This does not take into consideration the other types of trails and bike paths.

Source: Jeffrey Mitchell, Van Buren County Road Commission

Don’t forget to check out the recently released West Michigan Parks & Recreation Inventory at: www.wm-alliance.org/parks

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Foundation Awards $574,275 in Scholarships to Local Students
Half of awards go to first generation college students

July 16, 2010

For Immediate Use

Contact: Amanda St. Pierre, PR & Marketing Specialist
P: 616.454.1751 x132
E: astpierre@grfoundation.org

This fall, 539 local students will start a new year of college knowing they have the support of their community as recipients of scholarships from Grand Rapids Community Foundation.  This year’s investment in students totals $574,275, an increase of $16,000 from last year.

The Community Foundation, along with 61 community volunteers who serve on its various selection committees, processed 1,238 scholarship applications this spring.  The Foundation was encouraged to see a continued rise in applications and awards made to first generation college students—those whose parent(s) have not pursued a college degree. 

Recently, the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees approved recommendations to place more emphasis on assisting first generation and low-income students with the financial aid and scholarship process. As a result, Ruth Bishop, education program officer has taken a leadership role in the establishment of a local college access network called KCCAN (Kent County College Access Network), part of MCAN (Michigan College Access Network).  Bishop also presented college readiness, financial aid and scholarship application assistance sessions at 20 local events during the 2009-2010 school year.

The additional outreach seems to have paid off with 54 percent of this year’s scholarship awards going to first generation college students—a 17 percent increase since 2005. Additionally, 45 percent of this year’s recipients have family incomes of $30,000 or less.

“To help our community continue to grow and prosper we aim to help local families change the cycle of low-education attainment.  From research, we know that communities with higher concentrations of well-educated people have more households with incomes of $75,000 and up and fewer households with incomes at or below the poverty level.  We see the Community Foundation as a catalyst to ensure that the next generation of Grand Rapidians is more well-educated and ready to lead knowledge-based industries,” Bishop said.

 Additional points of interest regarding this year’s scholarship awards include:

  • 91 percent of scholarships are going to Michigan colleges and universities.
  • Over 45 percent of the awards are going to West Michigan colleges and universities.
  • Grand Valley State University students are receiving the most support with $85,900 in scholarships.
  • Top areas of study for recipients include health care, law/social science and business.
  • 63 percent of recipients are female and 37 percent are male.
  • 27 percent of the students receiving a scholarship represent diverse populations.
  • 28 percent of high school seniors awarded scholarships are Grand Rapids Public School graduates.

 To learn more about Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s scholarship program, please visit www.grfoundation.org.  You may also call Roberta King, APR or Amanda St. Pierre at 616.454.1751.


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Greg Northrup  spoke recently with Candace Beeke of the Business Review about regionalism in West Michigan.

Beeke and her colleagues at Business Review do a good job sensing that regionalism is a trend. They also notice that it is easier to talk about collaboration than it is to make meaningful accomplishments.

But we remind West Michigan residents to consider the accomplishments in regional collaboration that have been made as we’ve moved from planning when WMSA was formed  10 years ago to action in the most recent years.

For example, WIRED, the Green Infrastructure project, and the Internship Initiative to name several efforts that required input and action from people across the region. Read more about those efforts in categories on this blog or at the WMSA Web site.

Also, keep in mind that those are just projects started by WMSA. Our mission has always been “to be a catalyst for regional collaboration.” So we take pride in any example of regionalism, whether we’re involved in it directly or not. Such examples are increasing every year.

Finally, if you want to really understand the benefits of regionalism you need to consider how regions–not just cities– are compared in a national and global context. You can learn more about that by attending our “State of the Region” event on April 27 at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville. As in past years, we will present the “Vital Signs” report, comparing West Michigan to 26 other regions on a set of key economic, environmental, and social indicators. If you are interested in attending, registration information is online.

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Since WMSA has always advocated improving and promoting the quality of life in West Michigan, it was exciting to see that one of our region’s cities–Holland–ranked second in a national survey of citizens about their perceived happiness with their community.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, based on interviews with more than 353,000 Americans during 2009, asked individuals to assess their jobs, finances, physical health, emotional state of mind and communities. Holland ranked second, behind Boulder, Colorado, and the only eastern city in the top 10 besides Washington, D.C.

Holland ranked near the top in emotional health, physical health, and basic access to needs for a healthy lifestyle.

More about the study and local reaction can be found in the Holland Sentinel, and a national perspective is in USA Today.

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The December 17, 2009 editorial in The Grand Rapids Press, “Kent County Governments Should Take a Serious Look at Consolidation,” is a timely and important call for units of government to rethink how they provide services to citizens. But, while I agree with the editorial, I would make two changes.

First, consolidation is only one option. Many are opposed to consolidation and the loss of autonomy it represents. Collaboration, by comparison, allows for cost savings and more strategic delivery of services while still respecting the separate authority of local units of government.

A second change in focus from the original Press editorial has to do with the scope. The Press focused on Kent County; and I would advocate expanding collaborative discussions to local units of government throughout the eight counties the West Michigan Strategic Alliance (WMSA) has identified as “West Michigan.” This would allow for collaboration among local units not only within counties, but across county boundaries as well.

As it turns out, government leaders in West Michigan have been collaborating all along and see the need for more. We met the last several months with government officials from 31 units of government in the region who affirmed this. Among other things, these officials indicated that the public generally is not aware of the role of government until services are eliminated. There is also consensus that the current financial crisis will demand that all units of government—from county to village—will need to go beyond incremental change and consider broader restructuring in order to more effectively and efficiently serve the needs of residents.

Government leaders recognize that collaboration isn’t always easy. It requires time to devote to it. Trust and good relationships with partners are essential, which makes it easier to collaborate with immediate neighbors. Sometimes, collaboration involves giving up a little in order to gain a lot. Also, it may be wise to start small and build, since collaboration is a work in progress. Sometimes state law and other realities can be a barrier to collaboration.

Government leaders also stressed that collaboration is not always about cost savings—it is also about improving services. There are hundreds of existing examples of collaborations that work. Some of the more interesting examples include: rural ambulance service; a jointly owned fire hall; a river dredging/composting project; partnerships with local school districts for cooperative fueling arrangements and recreational programs; waste hauler agreements; cemetery tending by those on community service; and joint planning commissions. These existing collaborative efforts can serve as best practice examples to stimulate other innovative ideas to save money and maintain or improve service.

In our discussions with government leaders in West Michigan, numerous additional ideas for collaboration emerged. Among them were: pooled purchasing power; expansion of fire authorities; combined wireless infrastructure; coordinating protection and use of environmental assets, or “green infrastructure”; coordinated planning and zoning; developing inventories of able equipment and human resources and linking transit systems between Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

Because we understand the difficulty of bringing ideas to action, WMSA stands ready to help governmental units work toward more collaboration. In the months ahead, we will work to help educate citizens on the functions and responsibilities of government. We will promote a targeted agenda and help local units of government in West Michigan to have a unified voice on key issues. We will also bring the business community and others to the table, to explain the impact on them and to solicit their involvement in public/private partnerships.

In the near future, WMSA will build a database of existing government collaborations and case studies of a few highly successful examples in the region to help officials see and share best practices already in place.  WMSA, at the suggestion of those we met with, is evaluating the facilitation of two pilot projects. One will be a project of collaborating across counties; the other will be a collaborative effort within a county involving the county, city, township, and village levels of government.

As WMSA celebrates its 10th year, our mission “to be a catalyst for regional collaboration” is perhaps even more relevant. Focusing on intentional collaboration among local units of government will benefit all residents of the region.

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