More than 50 Community Foundation donors gathered for the annual Fall Donors Luncheon at the Stone Lodge on October 30. Along with time for catching up and conversation, the luncheon program focused on recent activities in the area of community and economic development.

Carla Roberts, FACF president and CEO, shared that when the organization conducted a community needs assessment in 2016 in Newaygo County and affiliate counties of Mecosta, Lake, and Osceola, a common theme rose to the top.

“Across all four counties, the key concerns identified by respondents focused on jobs and the economy,” said Roberts. “We considered these results as an affirmation of the direction we had been heading in since 2011 when we began to focus on education, prosperity, and a vibrant economy. All of these efforts are focused on talent development and making sure that we have the workforce we will need for the future.”

Roberts summarized some of the Community Foundation’s recent work to support entrepreneurship and small business development as well as efforts to create a Newaygo County Employer Resource Network (ERN). She then introduced James Vander Hulst, president and CEO of Michigan ERN.

ERNs, explained Vander Hulst, are networks of employers who come together to grapple with issues like turnover and employee retention. Employers identify common issues and share best practices. A key component of ERNs is hiring a success coach who spends time at each company and acts as an advocate for employees. Coaches help identify and find solutions to issues that may prevent an employee from making it to work and being successful.

“If you believe your employees are your greatest asset, how are you creating a culture that keeps them coming back?” asked Vander Hulst.

Guests then heard from Scott Faulkner, a longtime advocate of tourism in Newaygo County who has served as a leader in organizations like River Country Chamber of Commerce, Newaygo Nationals Association, and the Newaygo County Tourism Council.

Faulkner shared updates on the development of The Dragon, a 48-mile trail around Hardy Pond. When completed, the trail will span four townships and two counties and will feature 39 water crossings.

“It should be an incredible draw for mountain bikers and pedestrians,” said Faulkner, who estimates that the trail will bring in at least $4 million in revenue. “It will be the only one like it in North America.”