Lakeshore Advantage recognizes top leaders driving economic vibrancy

Lakeshore Advantage has named Leslie Brown, owner and chairperson of Metal Flow Corp., the recipient of its 2024 Visionary Award. In addition, three nonprofit organizations have been selected as finalists for Lakeshore Advantage’s inaugural Strategic Partner of the Year Award. 

Both awards will be presented at Lakeshore Advantage’s annual meeting on Feb. 1 at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville. The economic development organization serves Allegan and Ottawa counties.

The Lakeshore Advantage Visionary Award recognizes individuals in the region who think big; who make an impact in the community that goes above and beyond their career position; and who convene multiple stakeholders to accomplish far-reaching achievements. 

Championing initiatives

"Our community thrives on a unique blend of visionary business and community leaders dedicated to fostering economic growth through collaboration," says Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. "For decades, Leslie and her family have consistently taken the initiative to actively support and champion impactful economic and community initiatives. Her unwavering commitment serves as an inspiring example for everyone to emulate." 

Past recipients of the Visionary Award include Dick Haworth, chairman emeritus of Haworth, and Jim Brooks, chairman of Brooks Capital Management. Fifth Third Bank will present the Visionary Award. 

“Leslie’s leadership has created a legacy and example we can all learn from,” says Scott Lubbers, Lakeshore market executive for Fifth Third Bank. “She also sets the tone with her commitment to so many organizations that are making this community a better place to live, work, and raise a family." 

First-time award

The winner of the Strategic Partner of the Year Award will be announced at the Feb. 1 event. That award recognizes a non-profit organization that is helping to overcome barriers to economic growth such as increased demand for housing, childcare, and workforce development.

These finalists are leveraging innovative approaches that strengthen their communities. 

Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) is a pioneer in workforce development. LAUP’s new workforce development program, Educate, Elevate!, offers Ottawa County adults the opportunity to build an empowering career. In less than a year, this program served more than 150 traditionally underserved Ottawa County residents. 

Allegan County Community Foundation (ACCF) stepped up in 2023 to address a critical gap. Employers have increasingly identified access to housing as a significant hurdle to  growth in the region. A study commissioned by the ACCF revealed data on this need and is making plans to address it. 

Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) and Outdoor Discovery Center Network (ODC Network), joint finalists, are making strides to open more childcare spots across the region. Accessible and affordable childcare is critical to the region’s economic strength, and research indicates a significant shortage of childcare spots in the area. 

Meeting details organization’s work

Lakeshore Advantage’s annual meeting is presented by Pioneer Construction. The event is a gathering of business leaders, the Lakeshore Advantage investor network, and organizations that have aided business and economic growth projects. It is the official report on the organization’s work. 

“We are proud to be the presenting sponsor of this year’s annual meeting and to invest in the work being done by Lakeshore Advantage,” says Tim Schowalter, CEO at Pioneer Construction. “Investing in the long-term economic health and vitality of our communities is paramount to our success as a company and as a region.” 

In 2022, Lakeshore Advantage supported 33 business growth projects consisting of $2.38 billion invested by local companies and $436.3 million in support funds in the two counties. These projects resulted in 3,352 new and retained jobs. In addition, Lakeshore Advantage provided economic support to 302 primary employers and 63 startup companies in Allegan and Ottawa counties.
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.