Perception, Not Fact, Hindering Recovery

May 30, 2006
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In the downtrodden spirit of Eeyore, Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, we give you … Grand Rapids?

Sad, but probably true. Economic news over the past weeks and months has for the most part been positive. At least the positive has far outweighed the negative. Yet, most people in West Michigan continue to believe the worst when it comes to the economy. Ask just about anyone on the street corner or in the board room and they will tell you that “caution” is the word of the day. They will say jobs are going away, sales are down and the future looks bleak, especially for the manufacturing industry.

This attitude comes despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Economist George Erickcek says jobs are rebounding and West Michigan has actually seen employment growth. Car sales are up (slightly) over last year. Most leading economic indicators nationwide are heading in the right direction, including employment, production and manufacturing backlogs.

So what’s the problem? Perception.

Perception as an economic driver is a powerful tool. The developer who believes things are heading in the right direction will build something. The business owner who perceives prosperity will expand the plant. Even the stay-at-home mom who finds herself paying less at the grocery store may make another purchase rather than putting that “surplus” in the cookie jar.

Those on the opposite end of the spectrum sit on their hands.

In short, a positive outlook makes things happen.

Grand Rapids, for the most part, does not have a positive attitude. Maybe the region has been beaten down for so long (while the rest of the country moves ahead) that it’s forgotten what the “good times” really felt like. Maybe our self-image is so low that we find it hard to believe any sort of recovery can be sustained. Maybe we just don’t trust outsiders when they woo us with tales of fantastical developments right here worth billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

Well, West Michigan, get your head out of your Eeyore.

The events of the past week should make believers out of even the most die-hard naysayers. Need proof? A New York real estate firm wants all 206 acres of the former Steelcase complex. Not just the choice buildings; all of it. A New York developer and an Atlanta businessman are competing with local firm Moch International for the right to build multi-million-dollar projects on riverfront land the city is selling in the southwest sector of downtown.

Locally, Robert Grooters announced plans to move ahead with the long-awaited Tower II, which will be called River House and will be all residential catering to a vibrant downtown clientele.

The sky is not falling and there are no wolves in sheep’s clothing. This recovery is real. Don’t get caught sitting on your hands while your competitors move ahead. Take the money out from underneath the mattress and use it to become part of West Michigan’s revitalization.

It’s OK to be happy again.    

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