(GRBJ) — A new business association formed in the city of Muskegon Heights.

The Muskegon Heights Business Association is a group of large and small businesses that have joined forces with the intention of creating a thriving business community.

Led by Jack Russell, president of Rolar Products, plans for the association started about a year ago. About 25-30 businesses were represented at the first meeting. From there, the association has held monthly meetings and continues to develop strategic planning. Approximately 30-50 businesses are involved now.

Right now, the association is focused on promoting the job opportunities in Muskegon Heights, Russell said. He said he thinks people don’t realize how many industries are active in the city and how many opportunities are available.

“I think it's just a hidden business climate,” Russell said. “People don't realize there are over 200 active businesses licensed in the city of Muskegon Heights.”

The association is focused on spreading the word about the group and encouraging local businesses to attend meetings and have their voices heard — not just the large companies but also small businesses. Any business owner or key organization decision-maker is welcome to attend the meetings, he said. There is no cost to join.

The association has received support from the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce since the beginning. The chamber provides meeting space, and staff attend meetings and provide clerical support.

“Our chamber has a number of members in Muskegon Heights, so this was a natural partnership to support businesses in the area,” said Morgan Carroll, advocacy and manufacturing manager for the Muskegon chamber.

The first project of the association took place last spring when members helped on a clean-up day for Rowan Park. The association members are eager to support other clean-up projects in Muskegon Heights and along Sherman Boulevard.

This month, local manufacturers worked with local school officials to host 120 students of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights Academy public schools. The students toured the facilities and the Muskegon Community College technology center in downtown Muskegon.

“So they get a chance to see firsthand what we do and the jobs that are available right in their backyards,” Russell said.

This event may be the first of many business tours in the area depending on what the association members decide about how to move forward on this and other matters.

In January, the group is planning an entrepreneur open house, which will share business resources available locally, including banking information and startup competitions.

The group also plans to work closely with city officials, the Muskegon chamber and Muskegon Area First to advocate for better roads and new development in the area.

Russell said the association has hosted the interim city manager of Muskegon Heights to learn more about the budget and money flow.

“So we can be part of the solution instead of just pointing out problems,” he said.

Association members also attended interviews of the recently hired new city manager to have more awareness of what’s going on and make sure the city’s goals align with the association’s.

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