Another Uniquely Grand Rapids Solution

March 28, 2005
Print
Text Size:
A A

The success of the city’s urban redevelopment depends upon minority business success and the success of the urban education system. It appears to be a glass half-full.

There are measures of success in reports by city’s Equal Business Opportunity construction program, a year-old race- and gender-neutral plan that replaced “quotas” with “good faith efforts.” Racial and economic prejudices, however, continue to plague Grand Rapids Public Schools. The “leap of faith” demonstrated by the business community may provide a path by which such prejudices are overcome in the schools.

The city program developed to include Minority and Women Business Enterprises rests heavily on the actions of “majority firms.” Quotas were dumped and the city waited and warily watched for majority contractors to “put faith before proof” in the minority firms. Advocates of quotas last year were not optimistic. The city provided a certification program for minority businesses, but majority firms had to make a number of changes in the way of everyday business to become involved. Firms like Rockford Construction and the Associated Builders and Contractors, among others, diverted from the well-developed path of working with known subcontractors to seeking out and establishing new relationships with minority firms.

The efforts and results developed beyond the original expectations outlined in the program, eventually also including “mentor-protégé” relationships and additional private sector work, beyond the city’s construction needs.

Associated Builders and Contractors Executive Vice President John Doherty told city commissioners last week, “Last year I said to a reporter that this program was a leap of faith for all of us because there is no model for a program like the one we have created. It is uniquely a Grand Rapids solution.”

Doherty added, “I have never seen as much positive networking as I have witnessed in the past year.”

The ripple effect is untold. The Downtown Development Authority, Grand Rapids Building Authority, Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention and Arena Authority and Grand Rapids Public Schools all have either adopted the same guidelines or developed diversity plans that include the MWBE firms. Employees of these businesses and institutions are part of that “ripple effect.”

In another story this week Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bert Bleke discusses the inherent differences between public and charter schools, and believes the problem is not the choice of charters, but suburban schools.  Grand Rapids is 67 percent Caucasian, but GRPS is 73 percent minority; 9 percent of Grand Rapids families live below the poverty line but 79 percent of GRPS students qualify for free and reduced lunches. Bleke notes that for these students, charter schools and Schools of Choice offer no options: buses do not run to Northview or Forest Hills

Standard & Poor’s evaluations of Michigan schools, however, show GRPS performs as well as the districts drawing GRPS students, MEAP scores are comparable and graduation rates top several surrounding districts. “I can’t look into people’s hearts,” Bleke said, “but I think it’s a matter of perception, and probably race.”

Perhaps the efforts of the business community will make a ripple among those perceptions. As with the business mentor-protégé program, the end result is elevating to all participants; everyone learns, and everyone is more successful for that effort.    

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus