Editorial

Private, public sectors have hand-and-glove keys to talent crisis

January 5, 2018
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Long-predicted talent shortages remain the biggest obstacle to business success this year. From the West Michigan big three furniture makers and construction firms to restaurant owners, like industry clusters working together have created innovative programs in neighborhoods, educational institutions and in world-class lifestyle offerings. The Business Journal has reported on several of those initiatives the past few years.

Most recently, Steelcase Education announced it is launching the fourth cycle of the Active Learning Center Grant. Up to 16 schools will receive one of four active learning classroom styles for up to 30 students per classroom. This includes up to $67,000 in furniture, design review, installation, on-site training and a learning environment evaluation measurement tool. Recipients also receive training on education strategies, access to research, connections with other grant recipients and marketing opportunities through Steelcase Education.

The Business Journal reported on a specific initiative by Associated Builders and Contractors/ West Michigan Chapter to train refugees and place them in skilled positions with ABC/WMC affiliates. 

The Business Journal notes such programs are aimed at keeping West Michigan talent at home. It also is necessary to attract talent as this region continues to grow in advanced manufacturing and technology. The now demographically dominant Millennial generation may be persuaded to a point with benefit options, but cool city rank isn’t enough for a generation concerned about housing affordability and racial, gender and sexual equality. There are challenges at home whether keeping or attracting talent. As noted by Brian Long, director of supply management research at Seidman College of Business, Grand Valley State University, the driving force behind the housing shortage is the increase in employment. Some would say “that’s a nice problem to have,” but it remains a barrier.

Jennifer Owens, president of the Zeeland-based economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage, told the Business Journal last month that the lack of housing, particularly entry-level housing, continues to be a big issue in West Michigan, especially when trying to attract the outside talent. “When you’re trying to attract talent into the region and there’s nowhere for them to live, it becomes more and more of a challenging sales pitch,” Owens said.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss also knows the score. In an interview with the Business Journal, she noted: “Amazing things are happening with development, the economic outlook, low unemployment and tourism. But there are challenges.” Bliss said her top priorities in 2018 include solutions to affordable housing and eliminating racial disparities. Those initiatives include an Affordable Housing Fund, seeded by private individuals and companies; foundations; nonprofits; the Grand Rapids Housing Commission; and city, county, state and federal funding. A grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is in use to continue working on racial equity via the Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative.

These are good examples of the public and private sector working both ends of a problem to resolve major challenges.

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