Getting to know CEDAM’s new executive director, Luke Forrest

CEDAM is excited to introduce its new executive director, Luke Forrest! Luke was previously the director of civic innovations at the Michigan Municipal League (MML). He officially joined the team this past Monday, April 22.

Our communications specialist interviewed him to learn more about his background, what he’s looking forward to in his new role at CEDAM and other important things, like what he’s currently binge watching.

Can you give me a brief overview of your community development background?

L: I’ve been working in and with communities for about 13 years. I grew up in a small town in the northwest lower peninsula, but I have learned throughout the years that the things that make a small town thrive and be successful are the same building blocks that are crucial for larger cities too. Working in service of that whole range of communities and especially on behalf of Michigan, a state I care a lot about, is really what drew me to this profession, that’s what drew me back to Michigan from Washington DC—I was working on federal policy and I just felt that I needed to get close to the ground.

I’ve primarily worked through the lens of the urban planning and real estate development professions and worked primarily with city and local governments, but I’ve always really admired the work and seen as crucial the role the nonprofit community and the community development organizations play, so I’m excited to make that connection and get to know this membership better.

What are you looking forward to in your new role at CEDAM?
L: I feel a desire to get to know the membership better. I’ve had the advantage of having well over a decade to get to know city and village governments in Michigan, and now I need to expand my horizons a little bit and get to know the rest of the CEDAM community. I’ve worked on a lot of local and regional planning and community development projects, and my big driver there is trying to get people to work together across the different boundaries of the organizations. I think that’s a crucial role that some of these community development organizations can play. I’m excited to support them in that and try to make connections where I can back to my experiences.

What excites you most about the future of community economic development?
L: Someone told me this when I delivered the news that I was joining CEDAM, that this was a really great time for this industry. There’s a lot of potential. We have a new gubernatorial administration that has a very strong knowledge of and appreciation for community development. I think we can help them refine and articulate that vision and what it means. We have new leadership or elevated leadership at a variety of state agencies who see great value in our work. I think if we play our cards right we can really capitalize on those opportunities to bring more resources to the table. I would also mention the philanthropic community has really become even more supportive of the community development industry in the last few years and I think we can continue on that positive arc as well to bolster those other resources that I mentioned.

Why are you passionate about this work?
L: So it goes back to starting in the small town of Beulah, and having that passion and rootedness in place, knowing and trusting my neighbors, being able to walk to the library and to school and to beautiful natural resources, and then I’ve expanded that by getting to travel to the hundreds of communities all around Michigan. They all have those assets but in many cases the assets have not been taken care of the right way—haven’t been given enough resources to keep them strong—and that’s my big driver, is that I see so much potential in Michigan. I think we are really well positioned in a global future of constrained water resources and changing climate. I see amazing future potential in Michigan but we have to get back to investing in ourselves and that’s what I’m really passionate about—and the community development lens is where it has to start and be executed, not at the high-level.

Is there anything else you want our members to know about you?
L: I genuinely want to get to know them and I’m excited to learn about what they do and what drives them and how we can amplify that. Please invite me to come visit or meet with me or give me a call. I’m going to try to save as much time in my weeks to get to know them.

What’s the last book you read?

  • A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

What are you currently watching?

  • Game of Thrones and Barry

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?

  • Copenhagen

What album are you currently listening to?

  • Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

What’s the longest distance you’ve ridden your bike?

  • 20 miles, with a rest stop at Petoskey Brewing Co. in the middle