Community asked to take part in survey for Holland/Zeeland strategic planning initiative

Two of Holland’s entrepreneurial visionaries are ready to lead another exploration for opportunities to enrich the community.

Dick Haworth, chairman emeritus of Haworth Inc., and Jim Brooks, chairman of Brooks Capital Management and former CEO of Beverage America, have announced that the time is right for the greater Holland/Zeeland community to launch a new strategic planning initiative — Future Search 2020.

Brooks and Haworth made the announcement as keynote speakers at the annual meeting of Lakeshore Advantage, a nonprofit economic development organization that recognized the business leaders with its Visionary Award.

The last Future Search Initiative for the Holland/Zeeland area was held in 2011. Photo by Boileau Communications“To have the platform to honor them, and hear about their nearly 60-year friendship and future plans for the community was such a gift for me and everyone at the event,” says Jennifer Owens, Lakeshore Advantage president, who facilitated a discussion with the two entrepreneurs during the Jan. 30 meeting attended by nearly 400 business and community leaders.

Examination is essential

Brooks and Haworth say a periodic examination of a community’s overall health and the identification of priorities for improvement are essential for a region’s enduring prosperity.

“Great cultures don’t coast,” Haworth says. “You have got to keep working on it and find ways to strengthen it. Jim and I really want to be part of keeping the culture alive, seeing if we can find ways to improve it so that it will benefit everyone in our community.”

The planning session — scheduled for May 27-29 at Haworth Inc. world headquarters — starts with a communitywide survey to gather insights from as many residents as possible. That inquiry will be spearheaded by Brooks and Haworth, with an assist from 82 volunteer leaders representing the community’s business, governmental, and nonprofit sectors.

A cross-section of the community participated in the 3-day Future Search in 2011. Photo courtesy Boileau CommunicationsThe volunteers are not only asked to complete the survey but to also encourage other members of the community to share their input by answering the questions. Open until March 31, the survey can be accessed on the Future Search 2020 website futuresearch2020.com.

Strengths, weaknesses

The survey asks respondents to identify the community’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. The queries also want survey-takers to list the most important opportunities for strengthening the community and to pinpoint the most pressing issues in the region that can impact the quality of life, from the environment to education.

“The conclusion of the survey will be the beginning of the hard work of this community coming together to make the vision a reality,” Brooks says. 

Janet DeYoung (left) and Donna Cornwell share ideas during the 2011 Future Search. Photo courtesy Boileau CommunicationsIn addition to promoting the survey, the volunteers have committed to reviewing background information regarding the community on the Future Search 2020 website so they can be adequately prepared for 20 hours of planning spread over the three-day conference period.

Brooks says the cooperation of those volunteers from key community sectors is vital for the success of the region’s third Future Search event.

“None of us can do individually what all of us can do together,” Brooks says. 

Haworth agrees: “In trying to solve problems, you want to look at them from every possible angle, and you want input from all sectors of the community.”

Sold on method

The conference in Holland is patterned on a planning method developed by the Future Search Network, a learning-based association, and used worldwide by hundreds of communities and organizations.

Gordon Van Wylen (left) and Taiyon Afrik talk during the 2011 Future Search Initiative. Photo courtesy Boileau CommunicationsThe conference process for participants begins with an exploration of their shared past. They then discuss their present-day perspectives by exploring trends and global forces that affect their daily lives. Next up is a collective look at the future with the goal of creating collaborative plans of action that would be implemented with the assistance of the community.

Brooks and Haworth are sold on the Future Search method of strategic planning after their participation in two previous sessions for the greater Holland/Zeeland community.

The first conference, in 1994, resulted in the creation of two nonprofit organizations, one tasked with environmental conservation and the other working to enhance Holland’s central city. 

The Macatawa Greenway Partnership protects and connects lands adjoining the Macatawa River and its tributaries. Homecor provides grants to homeowners needing financial assistance for repairs and renovations on their central city homes or for a down payment to purchase a home in the targeted area. Homecor also buys, renovates, and sells homes in the central city.  
The second conference, in 2011, came up with an action plan for more effective governance in the region touched by Ottawa and Allegan counties.

Changing nature of work

Brooks says the latest version of Future Search occurs at a time when the nature of work is undergoing a profound transformation that demands a highly-skilled workforce.

“We transitioned from industrialization to digital technology, and we are now moving into an Artificial Intelligence stage. This is having a major impact on people who have been trained in repetitive-task skills for the industrial era,” says Brooks.

He continues: “If we wait, we won’t have the talent we need for our businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations. We are trying to be proactive (with Future Search 2020), anticipating where the future is going and identifying the priorities that we need to work on together to make sure that we position our community so that it continues to thrive.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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