30 years of growth now depend on educational improvements
Thirty years ago Grand Rapids Business Journal was created, predicated on the belief that the area business community was of such substance, a staff of business journalists were necessary to pore through public offerings, bank regulation and deregulation, identify industry leaders and serve as watchdogs over regional economic concerns.
In 1983, the business hub was the downtown Fables restaurant, mobile phones came in bags attached to one’s car, and the skyline was marked only by the renovated Pantlind Hotel. There have been many notable, major achievements during the last three decades. Per capita income has doubled and the standard of living in this region has vastly improved.
While much has been accomplished in 30 short years, there remain critical issues to resolve in this “second city” in Michigan, the most vexing of which is educational attainment and work force retention.
Business analysts consider the growth of the city a catalyst for the future and perhaps the most prominent feature of this 30-year period. It is best described by Windquest Group President Dick DeVos, who called the re-creation and expansion of the central core the infrastructural “bones” of the city for future successes.
The founder of Grand Action said, “It was sort of my theory back at the beginning of what was called Grand Vision, which then became Grand Action, that cities grew best when they grew from the center out. The best way for a community to grow was to have a strong center and then grow from strength from the center.”
DeVos notes the centralized growth is just the opposite pattern of the now beleaguered Motor City.
This region still has in common with Detroit and most Michigan cities the legacy of automotive manufacturing. While the slow recovery is sure-footed, it will not be the job and wage provider it once was. The Grand Rapids region remains statistically ranked among the highest in the country in terms of auto-related manufacturing jobs at 19 percent. Health care employment for the region — though now employing the greatest number of area residents — is approximately 12 percent.
Entrepreneurial efforts now are cited as the biggest potential booster of new jobs in the future, and improvements in education are necessary to fuel that economy. Even while the community has gained recognition for its amenities and creative culture, it cannot retain the newest generation of inventors without educational improvements at its core.
DeVos calls it a sequence “that is very destabilizing …”