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RapidChat: Cindy Brown

Behind every successful city are hundreds of dedicated people working to support it. One of those people is Cindy Brown, executive director of Hello West Michigan. We find out what she and her team are doing to attract, recruit, and retain talent to the region in this week's RapidChat.
Cindy Brown

Behind every successful city are hundreds of dedicated people working to support it. One of those people is Cindy Brown, executive director of Hello West Michigan. We find out what she and her team are doing to attract, recruit, and retain talent to the region in this week's RapidChat.
Rapid Growth: This summer marks four years of you being a part of the local organization Hello West Michigan. How have things changed from the first few months you started working there?
Cindy Brown: When I first started, our biggest challenge was that no one knew who we were. In the beginning, the primary focus was to get the website up and running, which was where our foundation had been made. Focus groups were also thrown together to figure out why we were doing this. We needed to chat with boomerangs and spouses; we needed to get out and let everyone know what Hello West Michigan is all about. The mission and goal has always been to educate people on West Michigan. We had to take the foundation we had and run with it.
RG: How did you fall into the role of executive director with the organization?
CB: While I was working with the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, I was presented with the opportunity after their current executive director, Kevin Stotts, took on a role with Talent 2025.  At the time – and for the other three years I was employed by the alliance– I was working on an internship initiative on how to create programs and encouraging students to take these opportunities.
When I first took on the position, I was primarily focused on just interns. Now it’s everyone - from students who are coming to intern here, to students who we want to stay- in addition to the boomerang Michiganders and trailing significant others.
RG: What role do interns and internships have within the economic growth and development of a community? 
CB: Studies show that if students intern at a location, they will stay at that location. So for Hello West Michigan, it is good to get the talent to see the opportunities within our community as an intern, and then decide to stay in the area once they are in the place to have a full-time job.
Furthermore, lets say if you have 10 interns - five will stay if you offer them jobs. We need to do everything we can to keep them here, especially if they are already sold on the place. This is why it is so important for the region to have a good internship program. We don’t want people to leave because they don’t think there are opportunities here - because there are. Them thinking that just means we haven’t broadcasted that information to the public.
By 2025, if we want to be in the place we are projecting to be economically, a third of our population will have to come from outside of the region. That’s why it makes sense to have an organization like us to help attract this talent. But as I said before, there are a lot of cool things going on here, and that definitely helps us with our overall growth.
RG: What are some other unique things you’ve learned along your journey with HWM?
CB: First and foremost, we are one of a kind. There is no other organization within the country that is doing what we are, and that is ground breaking as it is. We are so different in what we do because here is a lot of personal touch. That makes a difference.
The second piece of that is the collaboration. We have senior HR reps from Herman Miller and other local businesses that realize the importance isn’t to recruit solely for their companies – it is for West Michigan as a whole. The stronger West Michigan becomes, the better we can all be.
RG: What are you hearing people say about MI that they are surprised by?
CB: The amount of jobs we have. Three to four years ago I heard a lot about people wanting to come home, but thinking they will need to take a pay cut. Now it’s different. They’re saying: “Wow, I’ve heard about the great things that are happening. We are hearing that it’s different.” - and that helps. The mood outside of Michigan is starting to change for the better.
There are also the breweries, ArtPrize, and so many other things that are getting national attention - even global attention – which are bringing positive life back into Michigan. It’s important that all these things are happening, so a broad range of people can see that.
RG: Do you feel that there is a culture difference within West Michigan, compared to other places you have lived and/or worked?
CB. Absolutely. People in West Michigan work from their lake homes on Fridays, for example. It’s an extreme difference compared to some other regions, but we (at HWM) have changed the way we connect with our members here due to this. Also take, for example, when you go to Founders Brewery at 3PM on a weekday - there are actually people doing work. This is our culture, and you accept it.
If you think about it even further, you probably can’t talk to the mayor of Chicago, but you can talk to the mayor here. If you want to, you can be so connected and make a difference. If you don’t want to, that’s fine too, but you at least know that other people are doing it and the option is there.
RG: How do you think we stack up against our east side counterparts in Detroit?
CB: From a recruitment standpoint, we encourage people to move to places like Detroit and Traverse City if they want to, because it helps our entire state out. We don’t try to get someone from Detroit to come to the west side of the state; we’re not out to play games like that. At the end of the day, it helps the state if they stay anywhere in Michigan.
With that being said, I am excited to see the changes in Detroit come about. If we are known by our largest city (which is Detroit) anywhere outside of our state, it has to go well for us to be successful as a whole.
RG: What are some of your other passions?
CB: One of my goals has also been to be the best wife I possibly can, and I absolutely love my husband to death. Behind everyone’s success is someone that is there to support him or her, and he allows me to do what I love to do.
We also have a dog, which keeps us active. We like to visit the lake, various parks, and take advantage of it as much as we possibly can.
On the side, I’m working with the Purple Community advisory group, which is a cancer and Parkinson’s disease fundraising program at Van Andel Institute. My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and so is my aunt, so it’s a great passion of mine. I feel very privileged to be able to help and be involved in such a wonderful organization. 

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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