Grand Rapids Suffers An Identity Crisis

May 15, 2002
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Mayor John Logie began his State of the City address Thursday by listing several of Grand Rapids’ accomplishments over the past year or so.

That list reads like a distinguished resume, the highlights of which include:

  • Grand Rapids ranks 13th among INC. magazine’s 50 best large cities in which to start a business.

  • Grand Rapids placed 10th in 1999 on Fortune magazine’s list of the country’s top places to build wealth and achieve business success.

  • The number of IT industry firms in Michigan increased 62 percent between 1996 and 2000 to a total of 7,750 firms.

  • Places Rated Almanac ranks Grand Rapids third in the nation for recreational opportunities.

  • Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal ranks Grand Rapids as the No. 5 “most appealing city” for new major league professional sports teams.

  • The old Steketee’s building downtown is expected to be converted into a facility where cable providers, fiber network providers and long-distance service providers can deploy the equipment necessary to bring high-speed bandwidth to business and residential units worldwide.

  • Renaissance Zones have generated $80 million in new investment and 839 jobs.

  • Smaller high-tech firms are now eligible for Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax credits as well as property tax abatements.

  • Discussions are underway for a proposed Michigan Advanced Center for Automotive Testing.

  • Grand Rapids Community College broke ground in November on the Leslie E. Tassell Michigan Technological Education Center.

  • Family Business Magazine places Michigan 4th among the 50 states in having family-owned or operated firms with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion.

Impressive stuff, but is the resume enough to land Grand Rapids a job as Silicon Rapids?

Probably not.

Missing from the equation is public education. Just about the same time Logie was giving his address, Forest Hills Public Schools Superintendent Mike Washburn was hatching a plan that would levy a half-mill tax over 15 years for Kent County residents. The tax recipient? Grand Rapids Public Schools, which is saddled with a $400 million bond ballot for physical improvements.

While admirable, Logie’s agenda should include education, as well as other subjects that are a must if Silicon Rapids is to become a reality. Chief among them are improved relations with the city’s minority employees and assurance that the quality of life of all people living within the city is upgraded through more stringent landlord policing and upgraded services.

Mayor Logie deserves some credit for looking ahead in an effort to beef up Grand Rapids’ resume. But transportation, “smart parks” and downtown housing alone probably won’t be enough to give Grand Rapids a new moniker.

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