Citywide survey offers ‘top’ list for businesses as well as focus point

March 20, 2015
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The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy Community Research Institute has completed the closest thing to a one-on-one survey of city residents, providing a more representative sampling of viewpoints — and needs.

VoiceGR offers affirmations for the city, as well as critical areas for focus. The most compelling observation after diligent layering of facts, statistics and resident comment again underscores education achievement as the greatest area of opportunity for overall community economic enhancement — and engagement.

The fact that 80 percent of those surveyed gave the city an A or B grade as a place to live should be underscored. The results are certainly advantageous to The Right Place Inc. economic development agency and for any business recruiting employees to the city. Such information from city residents surely caps any “top list” provided by onlookers outside the region.

The survey results show 76 percent of respondents indicated they were able to meet their needs based on current income. Of the 24 percent who did not, about 38 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 29 percent were African-American and 18 percent were white.

Jodi Peterson, senior researcher for the Johnson Center told the Business Journal, “Those disparities are even greater when you look at the education levels: 46 percent of people without a high school education said they could not meet their basic needs, 33 percent of people with a high school diploma or GED, 29 percent with some college, and only 12 percent with a bachelor’s degree.”

Such stark findings underscore the work of Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s emphasis on Challenge Scholars in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. The program by almost any measure is a success and should grow to include additional schools. One of the unique and best assets of Challenge Scholars is the inclusion of the entire family in each child’s entry to a “challenge school.” The family is joined by an advocate, creating the best possible opportunity for success.

This much must change: Just 1 percent of program supporters represent the business community (including Steelcase, Irwin Seating and Triangle Associates). The business community has the most to gain by focusing on a program already proving results for the city’s most important deficit.

The foundation uses a quote from U-C Berkley professor of economics and author of “The New Geography of Jobs,” Enrico Moretti: “Since 1980, data shows that economic success of a city has been increasingly defined by its number of highly educated workers. Cities with many college-educated workers and innovative employers started attracting more of the same, and cities with a less educated work force and less innovative employers — such as traditional manufacturing — started losing ground.”

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