One of the recent articles from “Assignment Detroit” in Fortune Magazine attempts to say that Detroit needs to learn from Grand Rapids. The content that follows in the article goes on to prove that Grand Rapids is not like Detroit at all.
The article was titled, “A Michigan Success Story” with the tagline: “Its not the kind of view you expect these days in downtrodden Michigan”. It seems they can never give a clear message about Michigan or Detroit. Its a success, but downtrodden. Its working hard, but never making the mark. Let’s jump right in – so it is true, Grand Rapids is growing, has retained young people, and has significant investment in higher education and medical services – but that does not mean Detroit can replicate the business successes of this tiny West Michigan city.
Grand Rapids is not similar to Detroit. They had different industries, different populations, and different mean levels of income. From the article:
“thanks to a combination of business leadership, public-private cooperation, and the deep pockets of local philanthropists.”
This picture is not as visible in Detroit, the deep pockets of philanthrophy don’t reach as far in a significantly larger city with a larger population (ever with Detroit’s population decline). Retired Chairman and CEO of Old Kent Bank, John Canepa is quoted saying,
“But Grand Rapids had an unusual set of assets. The wealth in this city in proportion to its size is extraordinary.”
The Amway corporation and family, DeVos (whose name appears on far too many things in Grand Rapids), Steelcase and Meijer.
“The founders of those companies and their descendants still reside in Grand Rapids area, and match their deep roots with deep pockets of philanthropic dollars.”
The article’s author is defeating his own argument with each quote he gets from local Grand Rapids leaders. They recognize that there were some similarities in how the decline in industry had effects on both cities, but are not as naive to think that what worked for Grand Rapids will work for Detroit.
Unemployment in Grand Rapids is still very high and not surprisingly this disproportionately affects minority communities. Detroit is a city of minorities, unlike Grand Rapids that holds its roots in the white, anglo-saxon, protestant traditions with traceable histories, long roots to local areas, propped by family assets and connections. The city government of Grand Rapids is also facing serious budget cutting and is working with unions to decrease benefits.
Grand Rapids is the “greenest city in the US” with more LEED-certified buildings per capita. This could also be attributed to the growing trends in environmental sustainability and the wealth that exists in Grand Rapids. Where Detroit can take a lesson is in offering more opportunities for Green Jobs. The Grand Rapids Community College just opened excellent training courses for various “green” industries. I will begin writing more about “green” solutions in following posts.
Detroit doesn’t have the hard cash wealth that Grand Rapids has, but it does have other rich assets when it comes to new ideas and initiatives for improvement. As in Grand Rapids, these ideas don’t come from the government or its funds.
A last final and important take-away from the article was a quote from Mayor George Heartwell, “we can’t afford to see Detroit fail. But if Grand Rapids recovery took two decades, how long will it take Detroit?”
No one can afford for Detroit to fail.