Lakeshore Advantage helps interns picture their future in West Michigan

Do you know West Michigan is home to 114 public disc golf courses, 28 performance and concert venues, and 74 parks — of which 30 are dog friendly?

If those stats are more impressive than you expected, you aren’t alone.

Gentex interns Collin Mitchell and Ciana Witherell, who grew up in West Michigan, were surprised to find out there’s a lot they don’t know about their own regional backyard.

“It was definitely cool to learn all those facts,” Mitchell says.

Connecting to community

The two were among about 60 Gentex interns who took part in the get-to-know-the-region event hosted by Lakeshore Advantage, an economic development organization. 
Haley Abbas led the get-to-know-the-region event hosted by Lakeshore Advantage.
“Our goal is for these interns to feel connected to our community and picture West Michigan as their future home, where they will live, play and start their careers upon graduation,” says Jennifer Owens, President of Lakeshore Advantage. 

Mitchell and Witherell spent their summer at Gentex, a global leader in the automotive technology industry and Ottawa County’s largest employer. The Lakeshore Advantage event was part of a celebration luncheon Gentex held to say thank you and goodbye to the company's summer interns.

“The Gentex internship program gives us the opportunity to bring in rising talent for a fresh perspective and, in turn, we hope the students have a great experience while receiving hands-on learning,” says Craig Piersma, Gentex Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications. “We also want them to appreciate the benefits of living in West Michigan by experiencing all our area has to offer.“

Building experiences

Each intern received a goody bag of fun stuff to continue exploring the region. Ottawa County Parks donated park passes and recreation maps so interns could build their own experiences after the event. 

Among the primary selling points for the region are the thousands of acres of parkland to explore on foot or bike, along with multiple waterways for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing, and a favorite with locals and visitors alike: Lake Michigan beaches.

“We are proud to be able to offer so many outdoor experiences to residents, and future residents, and are grateful to be a part of a community that recognizes the value of parks,” says Jason Shamblin, Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Director.

Outdoor setting

Because of the global pandemic, the Aug. 5 event was moved outdoors to the “bowl” at Lawrence Street Park in Zeeland, where there was plenty of room for social distancing. Last year, it was held at Sperry’s Moviehouse in downtown Holland. 

This year's Lakeshore Advantage intern event was held at Lawrence Street Park in Zeeland,Haley Abbas, Lakeshore Advantage’s Marketing Coordinator, who began as an intern in 2017, led the games, “West Michigan Bingo” and “The Price is Right," that tested the interns' knowledge about the region.
“This year, we decided to be more interactive so the interns would be more engaged and want to learn more about West Michigan,” says Abbas, who was hired full time early this year after earning her business degree from Michigan State University. 

Staying in West Michigan

Mitchell and Witherell, who interned together in Final Assembly at Gentex’s James Street location, say their after-college plans call for staying in West Michigan.

Witherell, from Grand Haven, has their eye on Gentex after interning for the company.

“I like how people are nice here, and how you can be close to the beach and the city at the same time,” they say.

Mitchell, who grew up in Kalamazoo, says he is drawn to the region’s natural resources.

“There’s so much water around here that you don’t get in other states. You can basically drive 10 minutes to another lake and go fish, swim, or do what you want,” he says. “I love the area. I love the people.”

Read more about Lakeshore Advantage's efforts to grow the economy:

Grants up to $20,000 available for small businesses impacted by COVID-19

Zeeland partners with MEDC, Lakeshore Advantage to support COVID-19 recovery

Lakeshore manufacturers refocus to provide essential products

21 Lakeshore expansion projects create 1,000 jobs in 2019
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.