TraverseCONNECT was established as an umbrella organization, predominantly to house the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, and Venture North (a CDFI serving the 10-county region of Northwest Lower Michigan). While the Grand Traverse County EDC served as the economic development arm of the County, there was no economic development organization for the larger Grand Traverse Region. Grand Traverse County and its partners determined that TraverseCONNECT should become that organization.
With new leadership at the helm, TraverseCONNECT needed an organizational strategic plan. There was little precedent locally for the role of a regional economic development organization, leaving a blank slate for stakeholders to determine the unique needs and challenges that TraverseCONNECT should address as an organization. Furthermore, given the existing relationships with the Chamber and Venture North, TraverseCONNECT needed to determine how the staff, board, programs, and funding would be reconfigured to support this new role.
As always, Fourth Economy used a blend of quantitative and qualitative inputs to determine the primary programmatic and service focus areas for TraverseCONNECT to take on. Data showing a loss of working age families highlighted the need to focus on talent retention and expansion, while interviews with regional stakeholders revealed the need for a focused business growth and expansion program.
A Build Session was hosted to engage a broader group of stakeholders to react to initial ideas for what TraverseCONNECT should focus on, understand existing activities, and prioritize and refine key roles. The challenge in not spreading the organization too thin, while addressing a broad range of issues was a major topic of discussion, and ultimately we helped TraverseCONNECT to define four lead and three supporting roles.
Finally, we worked closely with the staff, board, and potential investors to determine how TraverseCONNECT would execute on these roles. We also established goals and measures for TraverseCONNECT to track the impact of their work.
The resulting strategic plan provided detailed recommendations, organized by leading and supporting roles; internal recommendations on staffing, governance, process improvements, and budget; and success measures. Released in the Fall of 2019, TraverseCONNECT was able to launch staffing and fundraising efforts to support the plan, with a launch of new programs in early 2020.
Northwest Lower Michigan