Participating in diversity bodes well for local economy

April 3, 2011
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Hundreds of area business owners last week helped celebrate the presentation of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Diversity Visionary Award to Eastern Floral owner, politician and community leader Bing Goei.

His extraordinary work in the community is lauded, but it is the example he set and that he continues to provide in walking the talk that is important to all business owners and their employees.

Kent County’s most esteemed business leaders have work diligently for decades to overcome racism, sometimes inherited without an understanding of the offense. It has cost the metro area in lost talent and in recruitment efforts, and is a tremendous economic impairment.

While the “Healing Racism” programs have been important in opening eyes to the issue, the Chamber’s initiative and those like it are increasingly important now. Goei immersed himself in “traditional” community leadership programs (and was often the victim of unwitting or outright racial slur).

It was through his continued “immersion” that others in the business community began to understand the need to network with those in the minority community — to do business with the “minority” community.

In reporting the new Census numbers for the Hispanic community, a Business Journal interview with Alternative Mechanical owner Dick Ortega provided an interesting note: A graduate of Godwin Heights High School, he noted he was one of a half-dozen Hispanic students in the graduating class — a number that today equals 41 percent of the student body. Adding Hispanic, black and Asian student numbers together brings the number to 61 percent.

Every business owner has need to contract with vendors for services, often through a “network” of who they know — or have met, and often with given time constraints. It is through these networks that individuals begin to broaden “who they know” and trust to assist with such services and products.

Most motivating, however, is the reality of a flat world and an ever-increasing number of metro-area businesses that work around the world — if not in person, then via the Internet.

Perhaps few are so immersed in an international work force as David Van Andel, chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute. Van Andel notes in his column Vital Signs (page 14): “If you visit the labs of Van Andel Research Institute, you will be struck by the fact that we are truly a multicultural microcosm of international scientific collaboration. At any given time you will see scientists from upwards of two dozen nations.”

Van Andel also notes that his other businesses operating with a world of employees “strengthens this region’s ability to recruit top-caliber talent.”

These facts underscore Gov. Rick Snyder’s very real goal to create an open door to Michigan for foreign-born entrepreneurs and their start-up companies. It makes immigration reform one of this country’s top priorities.

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