Chamber, Experience Grand Rapids campaign targets former West Michigan residents

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Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber Courtesy Rick Baker

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and Experience Grand Rapids are launching a marketing campaign to draw former residents back to West Michigan.

The chamber said Tuesday that it launched with Experience GR “and future community collaborators” the Opportunity Awaits campaign, which seeks to underscore the benefits West Michigan offers for newcomers and aims to empower business and community leaders to share the story of how West Michigan has grown, even during a pandemic.

“West Michigan is known for its natural beauty, beer, art and friendly communities, but we’re so much more,” said Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber. “Our region has the fastest-growing economy in the United States and is home to over 130 international companies. We want those who have left to come home. This campaign is meant to provide those individuals with the tools and initiative to relocate successfully.”

The trend of deurbanization in large cities began prior to COVID-19 and has been exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the chamber. Millennials are purchasing homes in areas with space, amenities and an affordable cost of living, and many of the people who have left West Michigan in the past are unaware of how the area has grown, the organizations said. The Opportunity Awaits campaign will promote West Michigan by highlighting the individuals, businesses and community organizations that live, work and play here.

The Opportunity Awaits campaign will focus on those who grew up in West Michigan and left to pursue careers elsewhere. The initiative will aim to demonstrate how West Michigan has grown and changed over the past few years into a region offering big-city amenities with a small-town feel, the chamber said.

“While we have issues that we need to work on, Grand Rapids is the place where we can continue to make a difference,” said Nelson Sanchez, COO of RoMan Manufacturing. “We can invite others here to help us shape a better future. We need them to continue the positive trajectory of this place we call home.”

West Michigan is known on a national scale for art, beaches and beer, but many people outside of the region are unaware of how many other opportunities there are — including in industries such as manufacturing and technology, the chamber said.

“The pandemic has taught companies that a great deal of work can be done remotely,” said Meredith Bronk, president and CEO of OST. “As companies and individuals reevaluate, they need to have West Michigan on their list for the best place to live in the new reality. Both individuals and employers are evaluating the necessity of being located in large metropolitan areas with high costs of living.”

The Opportunity Awaits campaign is designed to be a communitywide effort supported by other businesses and organizations in the area, the chamber and Experience Grand Rapids said. The initiative will promote West Michigan’s opportunities, cultural benefits and resilience in the face of COVID-19.

“This campaign is just getting started,” Baker said. “We need community partners to own, adapt and evolve this initiative and message to ensure we reach both diverse audiences and people who can make West Michigan the best midsize city in the nation.”

More information on the campaign is at opportunityawaitswm.org.

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