Knowledge-based core essential to grow, thrive

February 6, 2011
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Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell ended the week with the annual State of the City address, but the brief statements he made following the “blizzard of the (new) century” were just as descriptive and motivating.

In the midst of the worst storm since 1979, Heartwell refused to issue city emergency orders, noting that all the preparedness and advance planning was working. To issue emergency orders would indicate the opposite. And that is true.

He also beseeched city residents to help one another and to help police and fire personnel by shoveling out fire hydrants and keeping emergency pathways clear. And they did. No accolade Heartwell later noted in his State of the City speech said more about this community.

In his annual address, Heartwell made a veiled “response” to the Newsweek report of dying cities in America, producing a litany of accomplishments covering just the past 10 years.

While it is a list of impressive accomplishments, Grand Rapids Business Journal notes that the Newsweek report serves to underscore reality and the challenge of this time.

One could note that the statistical data Newsweek used to create the national picture is based on the past; statistical information from agencies is slow to become available for any real-time reporting. But it also must be noted that the last eight years saw little change, and have been marked by higher unemployment and less job creation for the communities on the “dying” list.

As has been noted for a decade by author Richard Florida, and repeated more recently by Michigan Future Inc. President Lou Glazer, communities cannot attract new business without a knowledge base, nor can new entrepreneurs survive. Glazer’s studies show over and again that “metros with vibrant central cities are both places where the high-wage, knowledge-based economy is concentrated, and where talent wants to live and work.”

As noted in this space last week, Glazer’s (and Florida’s) findings also show that the 15 states with the highest proportion of households with incomes of $200,000 or more are not the lowest tax states; in fact, they are states with some of the highest taxes. A knowledge-based community is tied to education levels.

Even as the mayor’s list of accomplishments is reviewed by the Grand Rapids community, consider the information this week from the Kids Count In Michigan Data Book to be released Feb. 8. Report announcements included this opening paragraph: “A commitment to education must recognize that learning begins at birth and does not happen in a vacuum. More and more children in Kent County and around the state are living in or near poverty. At the same time, many of the support systems that help children succeed are unraveling in the face of budget cuts and increasing needs.”

This region will continue to be challenged, perhaps dying, if all effort is not given to creating a knowledge-based community.

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