The president and chief executive officer of a Muskegon, Mich. economic development organization has been selected as the next president of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA), replacing John Bechler who is retiring April 16.
Todd Battle, currently with Muskegon Area First, will start his work with KABA on April 5. Muskegon Area First (www. muskegonareafirst.org) is the lead organization for economic development in Muskegon County,
Battle is a Michigan native and a graduate, summa cum laude, of Central Michigan University. He is working on an MBA degree.
"Todd Battle is bright, energetic and forward-thinking, and comes from a community that, in many ways, is similar to the Kenosha area," said Rita Petretti of Petretti Apartments and chairperson of the search committee.
Muskegon, directly across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee, will be the other port of call for the Lake Express high-speed ferry which will launch service from Milwaukee this summer.
Muskegon County has a population of about 174,000 while Kenosha County has a population of about 153,000. Muskegon and Kenosha are both lakefront communities that have seen dramatic changes in business, particularly in the transformation of the industrial and manufacturing bases.
Muskegon County is part of the Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the fastest growing region in the upper Midwest with a population of nearly 1.1 million people.
Kenosha County currently is a single-county MSA but, beginning in 2005, it will be recognized as part of an aggregate counties known as the Chicago-Naperville-Joliet MSA.
Battle, in a telephone interview from Muskegon, sees the Kenosha area as one "pretty well positioned for long-term growth."
While he helped bring various development efforts together in the launch of Muskegon Area First, he sees the pieces pretty much in place in Kenosha County.
"The one thing that was striking, at first blush, was that it just appeared that Kenosha County is well set up and well prepared for growth. They really put the infrastructure in place; somebody had some great foresight. And the key community and business leaders are already at the table working together."
He praised that cooperative approach as one necessary for economic development.
Economic development doesn’t occur "because of one person. You need a lot of partners at the table, and I recognize that need," he said, adding that the assets of Carthage College, UW-Parkside, UW-Whitewater and Gateway Technical College are also part of that cooperative effort.
The Tri-County Business Partnerships organization was recently formed to coordinate and foster economic growth in Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties, bringing together businesses, workforce development centers and colleges. KABA and the Racine County Economic Development Corp. led the effort to form the new consortium. Other partners in the consortium are the Kenosha , Racine and Walworth County Workforce Development centers. Paul Schumacher is the program manager for the new group.
During the interview process, conducted with the help of a search firm, Battle visited Kenosha County twice and Milwaukee once.
Battle is engaged to a school teacher who will also move to Kenosha once the current school year is over. He admits to being a Detroit Lions fan, but also a Brett Favre fan. His first position was executive director of the Dickenson Area Economic Development Association in Iron Mountain, Mich., in the Upper Peninsula.
KABA was created in 1996 by the merger of the Kenosha Area Development Corp. and the Kenosha Manufacturers & Employers Association. Bechler had been with the development corporation since 1986.
Petretti said Bechler has been instrumental in making KABA a force in the community.
"He led us from virtually nothing to a powerful organization with a multi-million-dollar loan pool and with a significant presence in the community and a significant impact on the community," Petretti said.