The Special Grand Rapids Habit

May 3, 2002
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This town really has an extraordinary quality. And you’d expect something special in a community with so many dazzling success stories: Amway, Meijer, Steelcase, Universal Forest Products and (for a little while, yet) Old Kent Bank.

It’s a quality that always seems to have been a part of the community’s culture. Just blow a few toots on some older trumpets: At the turn of the old century, this town set the pace for Michigan in producing water that people could drink without risking their lives. In mid-century a tiny, unheralded team of health professionals (women, at that), fashioned a vaccine that saved innumerable children’s lives from whooping cough while granting fairly serene sleep to far greater numbers of parents. And until this town literally led the world by fluoridating its water mid-way through the old century, most humans needed dentures by age 40.

But the plaudits about Grand Rapids successes certainly aren’t confined to movers and shakers in commerce, industry and public health.

Many of the neighborhoods in this community exhibit exactly the same sort of grit, determination and responsibility. The Journal refers you to a page 3 story that relates how the Creston Neighborhood Association rolled up its collective sleeves, got busy and solved what its residents perceived as a serious problem.

The problem simply was that four years ago Bank One no longer felt it could afford to operate a full-service branch in the area. Thus it closed the offices in its Plainfield branch, cutting back to drive-up and ATM services. Subsequently the firm found it had to terminate those services, too.

So what did the Creston people do?

Well, to begin with, they swam against what has become a tide in this country. It has become fashionable for so many groups to engage in an apocalyptic inflation of their own grievances.

There were no yowls about the need for government to solve yet another problem beyond its competence. And instead of raising Cain and trying to provoke headlines about corporate insensitivity, desertion of the central city or bankers’ greed, the association looked at the situation realistically.

The association faced facts.

Jim Courey, the group’s executive director, put the situation bluntly: banks just don’t make money in economically disadvantaged areas. In the era of mega-banks, no far-distant board of directors can afford to subsidize operations that fail to make money. Subsidize one, you gotta subsidize ‘em all.

So, no profit, no bank. Period.

Yet the people of the Creston neighborhood felt they should have personal access to financial advice and planning without spending 20 minutes clambering around a telephone tree. Moreover, they wanted to be able to sit down across from a real, breathing human who could patiently explain the minutiae of products and the implications of services and even outline options – all on a professional and confidential basis.

To the association, the obvious answer was to create or bring a credit union into the neighborhood. And the long and the short of it is, that is exactly what they did.

Thanks to a foundation donation and some angel capital, the association was able to entice Multi-Products Credit Union into the center of their neighborhood.

The Business Journal applauds the Creston Neighborhood Association for showing itself an exemplar of the old Grand Rapids Habit: You’ve got a problem; you recognize you’re probably the most effective source of action; you deal with it.           

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