By KEVIN WALKER
AMSTERDAM — Last week state officials from Michigan met with Dutch officials in the Netherlands to promote business partnerships between the two societies.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley was part of the delegation, along with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Director Jamie Clover Adams. Other Michigan officials in attendance were Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-District 63) and state Sen. Arlan Meekhoff (R-District 30).
“Agriculture is a vital industry for both the Dutch and Michigan economies and we have many growth and expansion opportunities within our agri-food sectors,” Calley said. “We value the ties we have with our Dutch partners and look forward to pursuing more ways to work together.”
Last week Clover Adams said Michigan officials were accompanied by about 40 Michigan businesspeople who are interested in advancing business partnerships with people in the Netherlands.
“We met with a group called the Food Valley, a public-private partnership in the Netherlands,” she said. “We looked at greenhouses, farmers’ markets, an equipment manufacturer of greenhouses and other places.”
Dutch greenhouses are interested in conserving energy and reusing materials, Clover Adams said. The Food Valley is an important organization in the Netherlands in that it promotes interactions among entrepreneurs, researchers and educators. “We are looking for opportunities to partner with the Dutch,” she emphasized.
Clover Adams explained the Netherlands doesn’t “feel foreign” at all. “It’s a homey place,” she said. Although a large city, she said Amsterdam lacks the feel of a large city like New York; one of the reasons is there aren’t that many cars. Instead there are many bicycle riders.
“They’re a lot like us,” she stated. “I think the similarities in our agriculture sectors might mean that they would feel comfortable in Michigan. You’ve got to start somewhere. We’re hoping that this will lead to more opportunities for business partnerships in the future.”
Other stakeholders from Michigan that were part of the delegation last week included Koppert Biological Systems, a company that develops pollination and pest management systems for crops. It employs more than 800 people worldwide, including 25-30 in Hartland, Mich.
The Hartland operation grows bumblebees that are used to pollinate crops. Interest in such ventures has been growing in recent years as colony collapse disorder continues to take its toll on the U.S. honeybee population.
Also participating was The Right Place, Inc., a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit organization that was started to encourage economic development in western Michigan.
The West Michigan Global Initiative was also a part of the trade mission. This group was begun specifically to develop and enhance cultural and business ties between Michigan and the Netherlands.
Jeb Burns, its president and co-founder, met with business leaders at Food Valley, Cargill and others in the Netherlands to explore possibilities for expanding food processing and other agriculture-related businesses in Michigan.
“We were the group that pulled this all together,” Burns said. “The mission was done specifically to foster business, government and cultural ties.”
He said Michigan was primarily settled by the Dutch in the 19th century, and ties between the state and the Netherlands are considered strong enough that the country has a diplomatic representative located in Grand Rapids. He said the Netherlands has a kind of Midwest feel to it and that it’s easier to do business with people with whom one is comfortable.
The big connection today is the Netherlands is the second-largest agricultural exporter in the world, Burns added. They are a kind of hub for such activities. “The main focus of the mission was relationship building and fact finding,” he stated. “It went very well. We’ll spend the next several months working on the next steps.”