Design hub spinning downtown GR
Only a few minutes after the audience at last week’s Economics Club of Grand Rapids learned about a new creativity and design hub being launched downtown by four major West Michigan corporations, “at least three other companies” approached members of the team “about getting involved in this and-or the next GRid location,” said Blake Krueger.
Krueger is the head of Wolverine World Wide Inc. in Rockford. Wolverine plus Amway Corp., Meijer Inc. and Steelcase Inc. are the prime movers in GRid70 at 70 Ionia.
All four corporations are located around Grand Rapids, but none have their headquarters or major facilities downtown. However, executives at all four agree that creative talent can spark innovation, which is good for the economy. They also agree that talent attracts more talent, that talent thrives best in an urban setting, and talent “needs to be clustered,” in the words of Hank Meijer.
GRid 70 will “serve as a hub that will join together talent and design thinking” from the four companies, according to an announcement released before the Econ Club luncheon. Krueger said that GRid70 partners also include Rockford Construction, which will renovate the building; RDV Corp., a private investment company, and Seyferth & Associates public relations.
Krueger said about 100 employees of Wolverine, Amway, Steelcase and Meijer will initially occupy GRid70, starting in the next month or two. The four companies are renting space and will share some “common areas,” to foster a spirit of creative enthusiasm and mutual support that can lead to “happy accidents” that lead to new products and processes.
GRid70 will also offer a new educational opportunity in Grand Rapids; a place where people can work on a Master of Design Methods degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT). The MDM program starting in Grand Rapids in September is a 20-month format that will enable students to remain in their jobs at the same time.
The GRid70 creativity and design hub will be housed in what has been referred to as the BETA Design Building at 70 Ionia, in what many consider to be the city’s trendiest dining and nightlife neighborhood. Rockford Construction built the $5 million, four-story building on the site of the old Milner Hotel in 2004.
Adriana Bylsma, principal of BETA Design, told the Business Journal her company is moving from its fourth floor headquarters at 70 Ionia to a new location on Front Street, where it will share space with Pinnacle Construction.
Bylsma said the creative types who will occupy GRid70 are more along the lines of industrial designers, while BETA is focused on architectural design. She said there will be more “synergy” for BETA to be with Pinnacle.
GRid70 came out of an impromptu “think tank” of 30 area CEOs, eventually called the What’s Next Committee, who began meeting for lunch occasionally to talk about what might be the next big initiative to boost the reputation of Grand Rapids as a creative and innovative place. The committee learned from urban experts that the most vibrant cities have downtown areas that attract young professionals, places where educated people like to “walk around.”
“I’m old enough to remember when there wasn’t much downtown,” said Krueger. Although that situation has improved lately, especially with the success in the art world of ArtPrize, Grand Rapids still had the “problem” over the last 20 years of being “a net exporter of talent.”
Krueger said the committee began searching for an idea that would enable Grand Rapids to attract more talent.
“From my point of view, it was important for the GRid70 project to have an urban setting. It’s necessary to attract the right talent,” Krueger told the Business Journal.
“Grand Rapids is the legal, financial and cultural center for outstate Michigan, and it’s a perfect location for this type of project,” he added.
In a question-and-answer session at the Econ Club luncheon, one person asked for examples of the type of creative work that will take place at GRid70. A representative of Meijer Inc. responded that the company will have about 10 employees based there, plus others located there intermittently. She said the employees based there will include food scientists who will be conducting research on new products.
A Steelcase representative said GRid70 may serve as sort of downtown “satellite office” for the company.
Proponents of GRid70 said they hope the idea will spread, with other companies forming additional creativity hubs in downtown buildings. Krueger said GRid70 is “not meant to be exclusive” to the four corporations, although he noted the building at 70 Ionia is already “largely full.”
He compared the establishment of GRid70 to planting an acorn.
“We hope there will be plenty of other acorns (like GRid70) planted in our city,” he said.
A key component of GRid70 is the MDM degree program from IIT, which normally only offers it in Chicago. The size of the first class will be restricted to 12 to 15 students, according to Krueger, and six individuals have already signed up. It is presumed that in some cases, an employer will help an existing employee cover the cost of the program.
According to IIT, the MDM differs from an MBA in that the MBA traditionally focuses on taking good ideas and building a business out of them, while the MDM “is on how to get to that great idea.” It will teach the means of creating new business systems that will propel organizational growth. It is “an executive master’s degree for exceptional design, management, engineering and other professioans.” The classes will be identical to those taught now in Chicago.
The MDM program will total 30 credit hours, with an average of 10 hours of class work per week.
Krueger said he is not aware of any other creative hubs like GRid70 in the U.S., although he noted that there are three similar creativity centers in other countries.
One is Bridge Eight in Shanghai, China, which is an enclosed compound of small, former industrial plants converted to about 86,000 square feet of office space housing more than 40 enterprises. Another 22,000 square feet are occupied by food service, retail and service businesses. The name connotes a communication bridge between all of the businesses located there.
London has the Metropolitan Works, a creative industries center where designers and manufacturers develop ideas and bring new products to the marketplace through access to digital manufacturing, workshops, knowledge transfer, advice, courses and exhibitions. It is part of London Metropolitan University, and also incorporates Design Nation and Exchange, London’s only “creative knowledge exchange,” according to the Metropolitan Works website.
In Helsinki, Finland, the Cable Factory is a building that once housed the Finnish Cable Works, where electricity and communications cables were produced up to 1985, after which it was rented piecemeal to artists of many types. In 1991, the property was acquired by the city of Helsinki. Today the spaces are rented to artists, musicians, schools, theaters, associations, museums and businesses.