LEAD forum brings leaders together to benefit four county region

Participants at a civic forum discussed strengths, challenges, and opportunities for Lake, Mason, Newaygo, and Oceana counties.

Photo by Eric Walcott

Photo by Eric Walcott

Leaders in Economic Alliance Development (LEAD) is designed to build capacity in regional partnerships through a development and planning process that enables local residents to accomplish a goal. The LEAD curriculum is designed by the Southern Rural Development Center, and facilitated by Michigan State University Extension in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Office. The purpose of LEAD is to accomplish specific tasks during each session that will lead toward the development of leadership skills and an achievable plan that can be implemented in the region.

Currently, MSU Extension is working to facilitate the LEAD process in a four-county region that includes Lake, Mason, Newaygo, and Oceana counties. On Thursday, Nov. 3, more than 70 business, education, economic, and political leaders and residents from these four counties came together to participate in the LEAD Civic Forum at the Hart Community Center in Hart, Michigan. It was a chance to discuss strengths and challenges in the region, and to look for opportunities to enhance those strengths and address the challenges.

Through discussions facilitated by educators from MSU Extension and USDA Rural Development, participants identified regional strengths such as natural resources, agriculture and manufacturing, good people, engaged communities and a talented workforce. The group also identified challenges such as transportation infrastructure, internet access, housing and education.

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Photo by Eric Walcott

After identifying these strengths and challenges, the discussion turned towards what steps could be taken to address them. Once a long list of potential project goals was developed, participants used sticky dots to determine which potential projects the group wanted to prioritize. From there, work began on developing a plan for achieving those project goals, including a discussion of resources available, resources needed and steps to begin progress toward the goals.

The forum provided a great opportunity for leaders in the four counties to come together and talk about issues facing each of their counties, and to discover the similarities in the issues they face, and the opportunities to collaborate and benefits of working together. Many participants reported seeing significant benefit simply in having the chance to meet with counterparts in other counties to discuss these issues.

Results from the LEAD Civic Forum will be compiled and developed into a detailed action plan at the next session, which will be Nov. 30, from 9:00 a.m. until noon in Mason County. 

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