Programs That Build Community Are Crucial

May 2, 2005
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If a greatly acknowledged, skilled and productive work force, a record number of entrepreneurs and creativity in biosciences isn't enough to make residents happy to call West Michigan home, then consider the programs and policies that also make one proud.

Given Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's recent ranking as one of the 10 worst mayors in the country, Grand Rapids seems ever more the antithesis Detroit. Mayor George Heartwell intends to push the city into the new Millennium with provision of a wireless broadband economic development initiative. Consider the teaching of recently deceased Community Media Center Executive Director Dirk Koning, who explained to Heartwell that information is power, and all residents should have access to information.

Heartwell told the Business Journal, "This technology will provide an economic development tool to attract and retain business, reduce the digital divide with affordable high-speed broadband service, improve municipal service delivery to residents, reduce the cost of government, and create a seamless wireless infrastructure to attract and retain young professionals." No doubt a mouthful, but so, too, are the partnerships being formed of this project beyond the city participation: the state of Michigan; Washtenaw, Kent and Ottawa counties; and Wyoming, East Grand Rapids, Rockford and Grandville.

Heartwell has to be pleased with the number of players the program brought to the city, and the depth of experience in the offering, including SBC, Nortel Networks, Northrop Grumman, Sprint and Cisco/Airspace. None are more bold, however, than the home team, FreedomNet Solutions.

Building community also is grounded in the County Connections program, which provides basic transportation services to and from jobs for residents on the low end of the pay scale, or those who have been affected by the hundreds of area layoffs and are looking for work.

It is also reflected in the Pro Bono Program of Western Michigan, which declared 2004 a "banner year" for both financial contributions and donated legal services.

The program covers a 17-county region in West Michigan, and those who are assisted include the families of the military stationed in Iraq and elsewhere.

While the law community itself is by far the sustaining benefactor for the program, it behooves business owners to become invested in the program. The legal services provided often assist clients/employees in becoming more productive.

The payback of a community empowering its citizens with programs that make everyone productive comes back in the form of new entrepreneurs, new leaders, new skills and continued productivity: a vibrant economy.    

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