City aims to cultivate business growth


Jermale Eddie recently moved Malamiah Juice Bar from the Grand Rapids Downtown Market to Studio Park.Photo by Teri Genovese

The city of Grand Rapids and partners have announced several key staffing changes in an effort to attract and retain a diverse crop of retail businesses.

The city, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. recently announced progress made through their retention and attraction initiative to cultivate business growth and strengthen the local retail market. 

The initiative, established by the partners in October, is intended to support current retail businesses and increase the number of new retail business recruitments, resulting in reduced first-floor vacancy rates.

Multiple staff enhancements made by the partners are expected to help attract regional and national retailers to Grand Rapids and assist current retailers with growing and strengthening their businesses.

Developing a vibrant retail environment aligns with various aspects of the GR Forward plan coordinated by DGRI, the city and Grand Rapids Public Schools. It also aligns with the first two objectives of the economic prosperity and affordability strategic priority in the city’s strategic plan:

  1. Support a resilient business environment by optimizing processes and regulations for property development and business-related permitting and approval processes and regulations

  2. Support the creation, retention and growth of businesses

Partners on the initiative approved the creation of a retail recruitment and retention specialist position. Grand Rapids Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said Richard App will fill the role.

As retail recruitment and retention specialist, App will assist current retailers with strengthening their businesses and attracting regional and national retailers to Grand Rapids.

App also will lead a retail market study that will measure the needs and opportunities for Grand Rapids retail.

The Grand Rapids Chamber also hired Trinity Clemens as business services coordinator. In this role, Clemens focuses on supporting minority businesses in Grand Rapids through chamber capacity-building programs ELEVATE Minority Business, ELEVATE Pipeline, West Michigan Minority Contractors and the Equitable Contractor Connect.

Clemens also works to support recruitment for minority programming and collaboration with the Grand Rapids business community.

“We are pleased to be partnering with the city of Grand Rapids and DGRI to bring focus to an important segment of our economy,” Baker said. “Having a member of our team focused on building out a strategy to retain and attract local, regional and national retailers to our commercial neighborhoods is essential to Grand Rapids’ continued growth.”

Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington expressed his appreciation for the partnership and detailed how the city also boosted its commitment to serving small, midsized and large businesses.

“Business organizations, our customer advisory council and individual customers agree that our development services are easy to access for repeat customers,” Washington said. “We’re now taking the next step to ensure our services are seamless and accessible for new customers, homeowners and businesses of all sizes.”

The city also made several new hires to elevate its own services. Washington announced the appointment of Darrell Singleton to the newly created position of city customer ombudsperson at the city’s development center. In this role, Singleton will serve as a liaison for those seeking city permitting, plan review and inspection services. 

The city commission identified the establishment of an ombudsperson position as an objective in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

Alvin Hills IV also was hired as the city’s business developer in the office of equity and engagement — formerly the office of diversity and inclusion.

In this role, Hills recruits, directs and assists micro-local business enterprises, minority business enterprises, women-owned business enterprises, veteran-owned small businesses and small local businesses with obtaining supplier opportunities with the city. Supplier opportunities range from construction, goods and services, and professional services. 

Ciarra Adkins was tapped to serve as an equity analyst in the office of equity and engagement. Adkins works with city staff and external partners to embed equity into city requests for proposals, contract deliverables, outreach, support services and communications as a strategy to address the problem of inequitable wealth access and creation.

She will work to create pathways for small, minority and women business owners to engage in sustainable business opportunities for wealth creation as a result of city development. 

Lastly, Jessica Solis was hired as the city’s liaison to provide administrative support for six corridor improvement authorities and one business improvement district. These seven entities, established by the city over the past decade, have created plans to preserve and enhance the character and physical infrastructure of the city’s neighborhood business districts. Their plans describe specific projects they will undertake that will promote and stimulate economic growth and encourage investment within their districts. 

DGRI President and CEO Tim Kelly said the retention and attraction partnership would further business growth and strengthen the local retail market both in downtown and throughout the city.

Having a strong retail environment is an important goal for downtown,” Kelly said. “In addition to the support DGRI provides through its retail innovation grant program and development incentives, this initiative will help further that goal.”

DGRI also announced it hired Kyama Kitavi as economic development manager. In this role, Kitavi works to organize and build effective partnerships and initiatives that ensure the continued growth and vitality of the downtown economy. 

“We believe having current market data and a dedicated liaison will help cultivate the retail environment the community desires for downtown,” Kelly said.

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