Image by Élisabeth Joly

Economic Development Ecosystem Map

Northwest Lower Michigan

Networks Northwest is the economic development organization serving the 10-county region of Northwest Lower Michigan. A multi-faceted organization, Networks Northwest serves businesses through administering small business, procurement, trade, and workforce programs. For communities without economic development capacity, Networks Northwest provides data, planning, and other technical assistance. They also have numerous community and talent-oriented programs and services.



Working throughout the 10-county region, Networks Northwest saw how a network of public, private, and non-profit organizations stitched together a robust array of programs and services to support economic development. However, that perspective evaded most of those individual organizations, and there was a general lack of understanding about how organizations working on issues such as housing or trails related to modern economic development, and to each other. Therefore, Networks Northwest engaged Fourth Economy to create an ecosystem map that would help illuminate how economic development works in this rural region.



Fourth Economy utilized a combination of a survey and interviews to populate an ecosystem map. The survey captured basic organization information, and results populated a spreadsheet that uploaded information to the online mapping tool, kumu. We then followed up on each survey with an interview to get a more nuanced understanding of the role each organization played, regular partnerships and collaboration they engage in, as well as their perspective on opportunities and challenges related to economic development in the region. 


To vet and further develop the map, Fourth Economy worked with Networks Northwest to host a Regional Economic Diversification Summit, with participation from the U.S. Economic Development Agency. Participants representing local government, economic, and community development organizations helped identify other organizations and initiatives to include, and also further developed opportunities to enhance collaboration and scale successful programs.


The final deliverables included an online ecosystem map, a "how to" document so that Networks Northwest can continue to populate and update the map, and a summary report of findings around challenges and opportunities. 


Stakeholders suggested that the map could be used to:

  • Identify separate programs that, if aligned, would result in a more integrated, comprehensive approach

  • Identify partners for programs looking to expand within a new geographic area 

  • Identify possible lead organizations for new or emerging programs without a clear “owner”


As of the completion of the project in Fall 2019, planning to expand the map by adding new information, as well as hosting the map on a new, promotional website is underway.


Ecosystem Mapping