Events to discuss talent shortage in city


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will address the challenges in attracting and retaining talent in the region, including the racial disparity in the engineering field, at the first in a series of events designed to engage the community in critical business issues.

The Chamber’s “Summit Up!” series begins April 12 with a half-day Talent Summit, which will include 16 speakers presenting on a range of topics relating to the issues of talent. A “Small Business Summit” and “Health Care Summit” are on the docket for May and June, respectively.

GRACC President and CEO Rick Baker said the Summit Up! series was born from a desire to better provide chamber members with programming that relates to issues they are facing in the everyday operations of running a business. The region’s talent drought has been marked as a key obstacle to growth.

“I can’t go anywhere without people telling me they’re having trouble filling vacancies,” Baker said. “We’re hoping to expose the attendees to a couple different things. We wanted to show some best practices that colleagues are using that they might consider deploying with the current growing economy and the war for talent, but we also want to engage them with some organizations at the state level that may be a resource or partner for them in solving some of their talent problems.”

The keynote speaker for the event is Irving McPhail, president and CEO of the National Council for Minorities in Engineering. McPhail said he will speak on improving diversity in STEM education, specifically on how bridging education in the context of inclusion can improve the outlook for regions driven by the manufacturing industry.

“By addressing the issue, you’re helping to ensure competitiveness on the part of businesses, people and organizations in the area with a keen eye on this market,” McPhail said. “I really am going to be telling a quintessential story anchored in the importance of diversity and inclusion in business development.”

McPhail said the shifting demographics in the United States to a more diverse population is a major reason businesses and communities as a whole should be paying more attention to the disparity in various fields, especially engineering. But he also cited a growing number of studies showing more diverse employee groups could enhance innovation and provide a wider breadth of voices that can positively impact business outcomes.

“Having a variety of personalities and viewpoints from around the table really helps to drive innovation, and this is a very important part of what diversity can do for a company,” McPhail said.

He added being proactive in recognizing there is an issue that needs to be addressed shows community leaders are working to ensure Grand Rapids remains a viable business destination in Michigan and in the nation.

Other speakers at the Talent Summit include Roger Curtis, state director of talent and economic development; Kevin Stotts, Talent 2025 president; Cindy Brown, Hello West Michigan executive director; and a variety of talent directors and human resource professionals from major West Michigan employers.

Baker said in addition to the speakers, GRACC hopes to connect employers with resources they can use to beef up their talent attraction and development.

“There are a number of resources available within our community for employers, and that’s a critical part of this process, as well. How do we help connect them with resources?” he said. “We want them to tap into the resources available that might be able to help solve issues or overcome these challenges.”

Baker said the chamber expects about 150 attendees, but with the wide range of subject matter covered, the turnout could be “surprising.”

The Talent Summit will begin at 1 p.m. in DeVos Place’s Grand Gallery Meeting Rooms. Registration is $65 for chamber members and $100 for nonmembers members and can be completed online at

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