The face of Grand Rapids has yet to change

February 6, 2015
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West Michigan businesses are increasingly entrenched in the battle for talent and recruitment competition.

While business and government leaders are almost smug about the “changing face” and growth of the Metro Grand Rapids area and urban development that provide bragging rights in the search for talent, the “face” of Grand Rapids has yet to change in a most meaningful way: diversity. It remains to be seen among the throngs of office workers downtown and those leading community initiatives, or even in the windows of Downtown GR Inc.

The Business Journal notes an emerging discussion in Detroit pointed at retaining the community’s young black talent and concern that its diversity might become less representational. It’s a good discussion to have in Grand Rapids, especially as Superintendent Theresa Weatherall Neal continues to create national models of success within Grand Rapids Public Schools. In fact, GRPS — for its array of diversity in its student population — ought to be among the “places” recruiters begin to focus.

Online financial resource WalletHub’s recent study of school spending ranked GRPS the No. 1 school district in the country giving taxpayers “more bang for their buck.” WalletHub divided each city’s aggregate test scores in fourth- and eighth-grade reading by its total per-capita education spending and adjusted those numbers for socioeconomic factors including poverty rate and households that do not speak English as the first language. The study was the subject of The Atlantic’s online essay debating national education funding.

Mayor George Heartwell throughout his terms of office has continued his Mayor’s 50 program, this year expanding it to the Mayor’s 100, a program that matches internships at area businesses with students ages 15 to 21 who have completed the Mayor’s Lead program. It’s another way to invest in this community, using and investing in the talent right under the nose of business.

Hello West Michigan has for five years been a prominent recruiter for regional businesses and service providers for “trailing spouses” as well as young talent. It is sponsoring a statewide conference in Grand Rapids this spring, bringing college and university career service professionals together with employers. Expanding that service may be included in the agency’s new set of goals during its annual meeting Feb. 25, and outreach to public schools should be expanded, too.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting its annual Diversity Celebration March 5, offering an opportunity to demonstrate its participation in continuing to change the face of the Grand Rapids business community

Just as it did with urban renewal, it will take the village to improve the metro area’s public face to one that means “welcome.”

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