'Cooperative spirit' puts area Newsmakers in focus

January 25, 2010
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Grand Rapids Business Journal this week presents an overview of the region’s economic activity (yes, activity) in profiles of the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year. It is the 18th year the Business Journal has culled dozens of issues and projects that mark long-term economic development. This past year was not so much one of “cranes in the sky” as it was about strategic business decisions and expansions that will continue to define the area.

The definition “long-term economic development” has morphed in the wider community to include political favorites and values defined by viewpoints, but the Business Journal considers the most basic of those definitions — jobs — including the types of jobs created by education and intellectual property potential, and opportunities for new economy workers, retention and recruitment.

ArtPrize may have been the most visible event of the year but it also provides a unique opportunity for attraction of new economy workers. It is equally important to note the unwavering support of the city, which showed no bureaucratic ego and cleared the way through hundreds of inspections, permits and planning.

The improvements at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the region’s engine for economic development, were funded by users, not taxes, and were completed under budget and ahead of the schedule.

Johnson Controls spent millions on its plant expansion and improvement, but most importantly, it provides a huge and remarkable shift to green jobs in its commitment to commercialization of hybrid and electric vehicles.

Battle Creek Unlimited’s multi-phase downtown project was spirited by Kellogg research and development expansions, but ultimately, as noted by BCU adviser Jim Hettinger, “results in positive, profitable alliances between four cities that are known for entirely different but distinct types of research.”

The research and development there, and that expanded in Fremont by Gerber owner Nestlé, very definitely impact people around the world — not just in food nutrition but in life sciences.

Meijer is going where no superstores have gone — into urban areas where population is swelling, well armed with ethnically diverse products. Meijer also is noted for its philanthropy in each market it serves.

Van Andel Institute architect Rafael Viñoly noted in December that the VAI is the new model in architecture for such important scientific research facilities and summarized: “It’s remarkable that a state-of-the-art medical research facility such as this could be built in Grand Rapids.”

In discussions with economic analysts from outside the region regarding the Newsmakers, unique perspectives of this community arise. While impact of any of the 10 has specific measure and consequence, they also offer an overview that underscores and unites them. “All the component parts (are) working and work together,” noted Don Taylor, University of Michigan director of development at the Taubman School for Architecture and Urban Planning. “One of the unique elements of this region is that its founders of successful businesses remain tied to the community and to its well-being.”

Taylor remarked that the West Michigan region demonstrates “the most cooperative spirit of any region in the state, and one that brought sustainability to the state level.”

The role of philanthropy in economic development is one of the greatest catalysts. Tools are things, but philanthropy and the involvement of business leaders, particularly in West Michigan, is its strength.

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