Street Talk: Talent drain’s strain


It seems like it has become a regular feature to highlight the juxtaposition of Grand Rapids being one of the fastest growing cities in the nation with the dearth of talent in the region.

A recent survey by Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids puts numbers to that perception and reveals employers still are having difficulty finding employees.

Of 390 businesses surveyed, comprising former and current clients of Express, 39 percent reported filling positions is “somewhat difficult,” while another 24 percent said it was “very difficult” to make quality hires. Just 6 percent said recruiting and filling positions was “very easy.”

Express has posed the question to its clients each of the past six quarters, with this data from the second quarter of 2016 representing the highest percentage of participants responding with “very difficult.”

Grand Rapids franchise owner Janis Petrini said while the region has seen a talent shortage across all industries, the skills gap particularly is notable in the advanced manufacturing, engineering and other technical sectors.

The talent shortage in West Michigan also was addressed in a recent report by Zeeland-based economic development agency Lakeshore Advantage, covered in the Aug. 15 issue of the Business Journal, which found that while 72 percent of companies surveyed in Ottawa County planned to expand in the region, 76 percent were experiencing recruiting issues.

“That (talent strain) will be the primary challenge for all of us,” Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens said.

Out and about

The Our LGBT Fund has grown from its initial $100,000 matching donation to $470,000 in two years — almost halfway to the $1 million goal the fund’s founders, Shelley Padnos and Carol Sarosik, hope it soon will reach.

Padnos and Sarosik were at The B.O.B last week as part of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s OutPro Inside/OUT speaker series.

The couple initially talked about their experiences being out in the workplace, with Padnos discussing her initial hesitation early in her career with coming out professionally.

As a member of the third generation of a successful family-owned business, Padnos said she worried being out would negatively impact the company, but when she did eventually come out, she found no one particularly cared, and if anything, her decision may have helped changed some people’s perceptions about LGBT individuals.

Being out in the community also impacted Padnos and Sarosik’s decision two years ago to start the Our LGBT Fund, providing the fund’s initial $100,000 matching donation. The fund is operated through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

Padnos and Sarosik said they had a “life-changing experience” when they attended OutGiving, a LGBT philanthropic conference sponsored by the Gill Foundation, a few years ago in Chicago.

That’s where they first learned that while members of the LGBT community tend to be very philanthropic, that philanthropy often doesn’t extend to supporting their LGBT organizations.

The couple left the conference asking, “If we don’t do this work, who will?”

The Our LGBT Fund is focused on two avenues: ending homelessness among LGBT youth and helping LGBT seniors receive care without having to go back into the closet.

The fund made its first grant at the end of 2015, giving $20,000 to nonprofit Arbor Circle. The grant allowed the organization to provide a part-time clinician at the Grand Rapids Pride Center.

The clinician provides counseling services to LGBT youth and their family members, with the goal of keeping the kids from ending up homeless.

LGBT youth often become homeless after coming out or being outed to unaccepting family members, which is why LGBT youth make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population, while only making up 10 percent of the nation’s youth overall.

Sarosik said one of the surprising things the Arbor Circle grant revealed is how young kids are when they are coming out.

She said the majority of kids seeking help are 12 to 14 years old.

Those kids particularly are vulnerable if they end up living on the streets.

Padnos and Sarosik urged others — including allies, who they said have been integral to the growth of the Our LGBT Fund — to help end LGBT youth homelessness in West Michigan by donating to the fund.

Craft draft

The use of the term “craft” might be getting out of hand.

This week, the Business Journal reported on the change of Option 1 Credit Union to Adventure Credit Union, which wants to promote its coined term “Michigan Craft Banking.”

Talking craft when it came to beer — even spirits and cider and many other consumable products — seemed fine for a time.

But now with every mainstream industry and company trying to peg its products and services as craft, we might have strayed a bit too far from the term’s original meaning and intent.

“Michigan Craft Banking delivers individual options from a diverse range of financial products,” a release from Adventure states when describing its services. “We know lifestyles are unique, and it’s important that our crafted solutions fit each individual’s needs and aspirations. We’ve moved away from the typical and often impersonal banking experience and provide a carefully crafted one, reclaiming individuality while providing value and a lighter way of handling your money.”

We suppose you can take that statement however you want.

Certain beers already have fallen away from the craft designation, because the Brewers Association is staunchly anti-corporate. Some start-up distilleries that make little-to-none of their spirits are deemed craft, while Jimmy Russell, the 60-year head distiller at Kentucky’s Wild Turkey, is not a craftsman in some eyes.

The crown jewel of Grand Rapids craft, Founders Brewing Co., no longer is considered craft beer, because 30 percent of the company is owned by a company from outside the United States.

Not that it affects how Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers do their business, but we suspect they still think they make craft beer.

Maybe they also now have a Craft Checking Account.

Going for broke

The West Michigan Policy Forum recently announced David Walker, senior strategic advisor for the Global Public Sector Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the man who served as U.S. Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, will be the keynote speaker Sept. 26 in downtown Grand Rapids.

Walker, who in 2008 was awarded the Gold Medal Award of Distinction from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, will speak at the semiannual conference on the topic of mounting debt from government employee pensions and retiree health care benefits, focusing on the cities of Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Lincoln Park, Port Huron and Saginaw, as well as Grand Traverse County. He also will unveil the PwC study on these areas.

His speech is titled “Why Are Michigan Cities Going Broke?” According to the study, mounting debts are coming and will cause massive cuts to other priority spending or will necessitate tax increases to fund the bills.

It’s a question that needs to be answered and one worthy of discussion among West Michigan’s top policymakers and followers. The speech is scheduled for 8:50 a.m. Sept. 26, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. There will be an audience Q&A period afterward.

Early bird tickets to the conference, which has limited seating, are $225 per person and can be purchased at

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