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home : news : news August 28, 2014

11/6/2013 12:01:00 AM
Talking 'Small Towns and Big Ideas'
Kate Bassett

An eclectic crowd gathered in Coolhouse Labs on Tuesday, October 28 for the first in a series of lectures centered around the theme, "Small towns, big ideas." Noticeably different from most events dealing with community planning, the lecture had as many-- if not more-- "younger" people in the audience.

With a skyped-in "Human Centered Design" expert, Andy Van Solkema , of the Grand Rapids-based firm Visual Hero, on the Lab's big screen television, lecture-goers first listened to a recap of information gathered by Visual Hero during Coolhouse Lab's Harbor Creators Collective event in August.

Showing pictures of a wall-length white paper taped to the Lab's Wall, Van Solkema recounted how Visual Hero used a starting question about big ideas happening in small towns to build a list of "post it note" thoughts from people attending the HACC about everything from what small communities have that foster creativity to what they lack, to dreams of what's needed. In the end, Van Solkema said the things that at first seemed to be creative hindrances-- like the community's secluded nature-- turned out to in fact be major draws.

"You live in a place where it is easier to focus. There are less distractions, less 'noise,'" he said, adding "You also have a community that's incredibly supportive. Instead of feeling like a shark tank, people genuinely want to help others succeed."

Van Solkema stressed that Visual Hero had only scratched the surface of what Human Centered Design can do for a community, and that the nitty-gritty suggestions of what would make the community more vibrant, more enticing to creative jobs and and younger generations, would require a more in-depth process.

However, as audience members asked questions of the Visual Hero designer, who has worked with international companies like Apple and Sony, a strong theme came through. Everyone is trying to attract and keep talent, Van Solkema said, and now more than ever, companies are willing to allow employees to live anywhere they choose, working remotely through technology.

"We definitely see younger people especially starting to choose where they live first, and then going to find a job second. Thanks to the Internet and technology, opportunities to work remotely are continuing to grow. At Visual Hero, we care much less about where someone lives than what their talent level is, and if they are self-starters who can produce for us in a meaningful way."

The rest of the lecture time was spent as an open forum, with participants dialoguing about what can be done to continue to attract talent-- and new jobs-- to the area.

"We had a great open discussion that was less about what is wrong, but more about what we can do together to move our community forward," said Jordan Breighner, founder and managing director of Coolhouse Labs. "We are going to ramp up events like this, including a weekly Beer + Brainstorm event at the Lab to create a space where people can come together and share ideas."

Ideas ranged from how to bring in creative-centered companies to building a stronger arts-based community. The flow of conversation vollied with ease, and longtime community leaders brainstormed with 20-somethings in a way that clearly energized all parties involved.

Breighner said it proved to him-- and everyone in attendance-- that gathering together to think, dream, and make is essential to the health of a community.

"We talk about this a lot, but to me creating opportunities for creative friction is one of the key goals for Coolhouse Labs and the Harbor Creators Collective. This first speakers series event was a kick off of sorts in getting people thinking on how we can make big ideas happen in our small town."

Next in the Lab:

Next up at the lab: on Wednesday, November 6, Coolhouse will host "Entrepreneur Office Hours" from 4-6 p.m. Founder and managing director, Jordan Breighner, will be on-hand to work with local businesses on any design, development, or website questions or needs. It's also a time to share ideas and connect with other entrepreneurs. A Beer+Brainstorm session will follow from 6-7 p.m. Beer+Brainstorms serve as a way for those interested in creativity and community to gather together in an unstructured way.

Watch for more events in the future at www.coolhouselabs.com

First Community Bank

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