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KALAMAZOO GAZETTE: Regional focus expected to help Southwest Michigan First grow jobs

1/7/12

KALAMAZOO — “We believe the most impactful program in the world,” says economic development leader Ron Kitchens, “is a well-paying job.”

“We believe that if you assist people at getting jobs, at all levels, that the reward comes back multifold,” said Kitchens, who as chief executive officer of Kalamazoo-based Southwest Michigan First, explaining the economic development organization's mission — creating jobs.

A job helps change a person's perspective not only for today and the future, he said, but it also allows that person to put his or her past struggles in the light of a success.

With cultivating job-creation resources in mind, the organization is working to make sure it has at least two strong representatives from private sector businesses from each surrounding county on its board of directors.

"We just can't afford to not have that knowledge that the private sector brings from all over the region and build upon it,” Kitchens said.

Expanding the board from the current 19 to more than 30 members is conceivable, he said, to include representation from Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Cass, Calhoun, Cass, St. Joseph, Van Buren and Kalmaazoo counties.  The board already has representatives from some areas.

"The focus will be much more on committee structures and working groups," Kitchens said.  "It will take a different management strategy in terms of board engagement and executing."

Regionality will be a big consideration as the organization's current board meets on Jan. 19 to mull such things as new officers and board appointments.  Board members sit for three-year terms on the private non-profit organization.

The organization also is having an additional 800-900 square feet of space finished and added to its offices in the Main Street East Building in downtown Kalamazoo to accomodate new staff people and to provide room for personnel from venture capital firms and other investment entities considering life-science and other business opportunities here. 

Kitchens said there are a couple of venture capital firms, one from the Chicago area and another from Indiana, that hold quarterly or once a month meetings here.

The build-out is to be completed within the next two weeks.

Current members of the SWMF Board of Directors are:

By Al Jones

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