City stays course on strategic plan amid pandemic challenges

Core values of accountability and transparency will remain decision drivers.
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Despite the flurry of challenges thrown at state and local officials over the past year, the city of Grand Rapids stayed true to its strategic plan and has a clear path heading into its next fiscal year. 

City officials presented their work and accomplishments to city commissioners through the last fiscal year (July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021) and detailed key strategies planned for the 2021-22 fiscal year while remaining true to one of the plan’s core values: accountability.

“This report is an accountability of the performance of our organization relative of the goals and objectives that were set in our strategic plan,” City Manager Mark Washington said. “As we continue to look through the lens of our organization’s performance, we continue to lift our values, which were reinforced through the City Commission … on the values of sustainability, equity, accountability, collaboration, innovation and customer service. We will continue to make sure these are reflected along with our vision and mission in everything we do moving forward.”

The city remains committed to its core values being a driving force in its successes as it moves into the third year of its four-year strategic plan. In addition to adhering to the core value of accountability, the city’s core value of sustainability remained a guiding factor in maintaining employment of all city staff. 

“For sustainability too, there is really fiscal sustainability,” said Sustainability and Performance Management Officer Allison Waske Sutter. “And, of course, the city’s work led by our chief financial officer, Molly Clarin, in terms of maintaining budget during the COVID pandemic with significant income tax shortfalls — we’ve been able to strategically leverage federal funding and ARPA funding where we did not have to lay off any city staff, which is very atypical as most organizations and municipalities did.”

As the Business Journal previously reported, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funding enabled the city to maintain funding for its general, Vital Streets, sidewalk repair and capital reserve funds over two years to help remedy drastic losses in income tax revenue. 

Further guided by its sustainability practices, the city recently announced a carbon goal for municipal operations to have an 85% carbon reduction by 2030 and 100% reduction by 2040. Since 2008, the city has reduced carbon emissions of its municipal operations by 30%, and the construction of a solar plant currently underway will be a guiding force in reducing and ultimately eradicating its carbon impact. 

City executives also were quick pivot when it came to supporting the business community as exemplified by social zones, small business grants and other similar actions.

“Grand Rapids has more social zones and districts than any other city in the state and so we were early and frequent adopters of it, and we think that there’s even more opportunity to help our businesses through the upcoming winter season,” Washington said. “So that continues to remain at the forefront; we’re going to talk about 2022 and how we can even build upon that as we plan for future specific deployments of some of the ARPA funding.”

Other highlights included finalizing the attraction of Perrigo’s North American headquarters to the Medical Mile, paying $525,000 in economic recovery grants to 105 small businesses, and implementing the Business Retention & Expansion Program (BRE), which allowed the city, in partnership with The Right Place and Michigan Economic Development Corporation, to complete 52 BRE visits that sought to help leaders understand business needs and connect them to vital resources. 

“We are working on revising the Local Brownfield Revolving Fund,” said Sutter, “(which) is a policy working to prioritize first-time developers and projects in our neighborhoods of focus, and we implemented an inclusion plan for our economic development projects that has achieved over $5 million for subcontractors’ commitments.”

The Local Brownfield Revolving Fund was established to provide grants and loans to support eligible redevelopment projects within the city and “may also be used to pay for all or part of the cost of environmental assessments for real estate acquisitions,” according to the city’s website.

Events, in particular, took a hit over the last fiscal year, dampening another primary economic development driver. After the cancellation of ArtPrize in 2020, the city partnered with Experience Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) to create a monthlong event that encouraged the community to enjoy cultural activities, food, music, art and more, all while abiding by COVID-19 safety measures.

“There were some huge impacts on special events and that draws a lot of people to our community,” Sutter said. “And so, I think in particular, our office of special events did a phenomenal job working to develop a new engagement called ‘The Bridge,’ (which was) a big partnership with DGRI and other community partners to get people out in frequenting businesses, evening during the pandemic, and doing it safely.”

As the city looks ahead to the 2021-22 fiscal year, it plans to continue to move forward by all means necessary while still abiding by its core values and keeping community members at the center of its work.

“I think, big-picture, in terms of looking at both our values and the vision that we set out for our community, those are things that have remained constant and have kept us focused during the crisis,” Sutter said. “And I think we couldn’t have had better timing to have had those in place before the COVID pandemic hit, and I have found a lot of value in our leadership continuing to lead and our organization continuing to embrace those values and embed them throughout our entire organization.”

The city’s full strategic plan, as well as its performance dashboard, can be found on the city website at grandrapidsmi.gov/government

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