Street Talk: Chamber just says no


The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is taking a page from Nancy Reagan’s playbook: Just say no.

In the 1980s, the former first lady was the famous face tied to the public service campaign against drugs. Her mantra resonated in American households for most of the decade.

Apparently, it still does.

At its March meeting, the chamber’s board of directors moved to oppose two proposals seeking to be on the November ballot — the statutory initiative to legalize the adult recreational use of marijuana and the constitutional amendment on redistricting.

“After hearing from both sides on these proposals, it is clear to our members and the board that both ballot proposals would be a step back for Michigan,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the GR chamber. “As a state and region, we need to remain focused on the priorities that are critical to West Michigan’s growth, such as addressing the talent gap, sound fiscal policy and quality infrastructure. These proposals take us in the wrong direction.”

Chamber officials claim the “no” vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana stems from the critical talent dearth for West Michigan employers.

“The chamber is concerned over the negative impacts this proposal would have on the economy, talent, public health — and the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law,” said Andy Johnston, chamber vice president of government affairs. “This proposal would create a host of new workplace issues for employers. At a time when job providers are struggling to find qualified applicants and talent is the top business issue, we have significant concerns about how the passage of this proposal would impact the workforce.”

Regarding redistricting — always a cause for concern on both sides of the political aisle, depending on which party is in power — the chamber board opted for a tried-and-true defense.

“The chamber sets a high bar for supporting any proposal to amend Michigan’s Constitution and the redistricting amendment fails to meet this test,” Johnston said. “This proposal is flawed and unworthy of being enshrined in the state constitution.”

Johnston said the potential for shenanigans is just too high.

“Our concerns centered on how the proposed commission would operate, the altered and vague requirements on how districts are created and restrictions on necessary judicial safeguards for legislative maps,” he said.

Petition signatures for both proposals are under review by the Michigan Secretary of State. Should these proposals make the ballot, Baker said the board will work to educate chamber members on the impacts these proposals would have on the state and region.

Follow the leaders

There is a desperate need for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers in Michigan and, more specifically, for women STEM workers.

In an effort to “grow their own,” some West Michigan organizations are taking matters into their own hands.

Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes recently collaborated with Holland-based Yanfeng Automotive Interiors to bring more than 200 middle school girls to an all-day event called the JA Girls’ Dream Fair.

Research suggests the key to getting girls interested in STEM careers is introducing them to women who already are in those careers. During the JA event, girls were encouraged to investigate, ask questions and be inspired to consider STEM for their future.

“Engaging with middle school girls and getting them interested in STEM careers at an early age is extremely important,” said Laurie Bylsma, executive director of human resources, North America for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. “There is a strong need for more females in engineering, design and other technical areas in the automotive industry. Events such as the Junior Achievement Dream Fair are critical to help encourage today’s youth to be tomorrow’s leaders in STEM.”

The event provided students with keynote speakers from women in STEM fields, as well as a vendor fair with local STEM employers and an opportunity to explore their own STEM strengths in a classroom setting.

“Even with the increased emphasis on STEM careers nationwide, the number of women going into STEM careers is dropping,” said Bill Coderre, president of Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes. “The JA Girls’ Dream Fair is a STEM experience that was designed to address these concerns and provide female STEM mentors to middle school girls in a one-day, aspirational JA STEM experience.”

Funding talent

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation awarded a three-year grant valued at $150,000 to Ferris State University’s Latino Business and Economic Development Center.

Awarded from the foundation’s Fund for Community Good, the unrestricted funding will be used for programming that helps address issues of workforce development, economic disparity, civic engagement and overall leadership development in Grand Rapids’ Latino community.

“The Grand Rapids Community Foundation grant will help fund programs that equip young Latino professionals with the skills, resources and confidence needed to become leaders at work and in their own communities,” said Carlos Sanchez, the center’s director and a foundation board member. “Our Latino entrepreneurs will be more prepared to launch and expand successful businesses and empowered to take ownership of their future.”

With the increased funding, LBEDC leaders expect to add more programming and networking opportunities for participants.

“Grand Rapids Community Foundation is committed to working with community partners like Ferris State University to build an inclusive economy to grow a thriving community,” said Diana Sieger, the foundation’s president. “This program amplifies the ability for our region to thrive due to the focus on diversity.”

Since its inception in 2013, the LBEDC’s Latino Talent Initiative has graduated nearly 100 individuals and has seen 50 people participate in the 11-week Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative program since 2017.

Under FSU President David Eisler’s direction, the university has worked to develop young Latinos into leaders.

“The Latino community in the United States is rapidly growing and will continue to have a profound impact on society, culture, the workforce, our economy and our businesses,” Eisler said. “By ensuring that we are developing strong leaders who understand themselves as professionals and the importance of civic engagement, Ferris is helping Michigan move forward.”

See the irony?

The campaign season is in full swing, which means politicians are trying to separate you from your hard-earned cash in a variety of creative ways.

As usual, bashing the other side is fair game.

Last week, Sen. Gary Peters fired off an email offering the opportunity to stick it to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He takes DeVos to task for misdirection of “federal funding to private schools” and accuses her of backing the interests of “ultra-wealthy” corporations in a letter addressed to her.

It seems Peters is not a fan of DeVos’ wealth or her perceived cronyism with similarly affluent people.

Ordinary Joes and Janes also can register their displeasure with DeVos if they’re willing to part with a $5 donation to Peters’ Senate campaign. That’s the price of getting your name on the letter, too.

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