Regional success is undeterred

March 2, 2009
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While the horn has been sounded to begin the stampede to the federal funds feeding trough, it is clearly not a horn of plenty. In fact, President Barack Obama last week told the nation the bailout funds already in play will not be enough.

In contrast to such bleeding and pleading, Grand Rapids Business Journal notes that business community leaders here are quietly continuing to plan for the future, even while counting down the days to the end of the recession. It is that planning — and the quiet determination underscoring it — that continues to move this region forward.

Area hospitals have been successfully recruiting physician specialists in cardiology, neuroscience and cancer treatment even as Michigan State University is hiring the leaders for its Grand Rapids medical school, prepared to double class sizes in five months. As the Van Andel Institute doubles its size, it, too, is recruiting scientists and researchers from around the world who will live in this community. Similar activity is reported in bio- and agri-sciences and engineering.

While there has been wide-spread speculation that the downtown housing market may be close to overbuilt, the experts in charge of that study say otherwise. The Downtown Development Authority recently reviewed conclusions of a study by New Jersey-based Zimmerman/Volk Associates, which conducted a housing needs study in 2004 for the city and returned to recalculate in 2008, at the height of the credit and housing crisis.

The difference? Grand Rapids will need 24 percent more housing in the downtown alone than originally calculated, but the study suggested the larger portion, 57 percent, be developed as rental housing. Two such rental housing projects already have been designed, one on Fulton Street and the other on Monroe Center.

The firm’s partner, Laurie Volk, told the Business Journal that the city, compared to others around the country and relative to its size, is “doing extremely well.” Volk said, “There has been a lot of downtown development. But I think it’s particularly remarkable in the state of Michigan, because, as you know, most of Michigan is just suffering. And Grand Rapids, probably because of all the medical stuff that’s happening there and the research and the university, is really … I was very impressed.” Volk also noted that Grand Rapids stood out for its housing affordability.

Plans for the nine-mile bus rapid transit Silver Line by The Rapid have already provided new development plans in Kentwood and Wyoming, and through East Grand Rapids and into Grand Rapids.

This week the Journal profiles 24 area businesses owned by women, each of them succeeding based on entrepreneurial inventiveness, reinvestment in their businesses and conservative rein on expenses. Some of those business owners have commented that they are almost afraid to talk of success in today’s climate.

That in particular belies the wacky thinking of this time, fraught by those who prefer public dole to hard work; those who even prefer a recession to take “free money” rather than write a business plan.

Many of those plans are succeeding in this area. Recruitment to Grand Rapids is already underway and so, too, are the plans of progress.

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