City’s ‘sustainable jobs’ goal is a recipe for failure


The Business Journal has in the past commended city of Grand Rapids endeavors toward environmental sustainability, from the biodiesel fuel project in 2002 to the Butterworth Solar Project anticipated to be running by the end of this year. The city also recently announced savings of more than $700,000 through reduced energy costs.

City staff, however, are now expanding “sustainability” efforts. Two words are never good together: government and expansion. Far more worrisome is that the city of Grand Rapids is stretching the concept of sustainability to include “sustainable jobs” and “sustainable businesses.”

That such goals are even thought to befit the public realm versus the private sector is a mark of ignorance. The Grand Rapids metro area is home to highly ranked business schools and colleges. Perhaps the Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business, the Calvin College economics department or any classroom at Davenport University might “test” the ideas of city staff.

Perhaps the colleges could be cajoled into participation with the promise of “training grants,” but as the Business Journal reports often, those programs already exist. If any “incentive” funds are available, those might best be spent on tuition at any of these fine institutions of higher learning to teach city staff about the free market.

A knowledge gap so vacuous begs any particular starting point for reference. The city in fact is setting up people for failure under the guise of a diversity program.

The city framework for “sustainable businesses” begins by picking winners and losers: It seeks to target individuals or any type of business by gender, ethnicity or possibly religious affiliation. One need only look back to a similar program created some time ago by the Small Business Association of Michigan (entrepreneurs ready to help entrepreneurs) with similar goals. It failed, as have others in the test of a free market.

At best, the city would compete with nongovernmental programs that already exist in Grand Rapids and have a long history of successes with established businesses: Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, (which just won U.S. Department of the Treasury designation that will allow it to provide additional financial services to economically disadvantaged individuals in West Michigan; see Page 3) and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which this year initiated Elevate Minority Business targeting second-stage businesses. The Small Business Development Center for the entire state is headquartered at GVSU.

The initiative best working for the city is a practice that assures minority-owned businesses equal opportunity to bid on city contracts of great variety. The federal courts have already ruled against specific quotas for these practices.

The height of ignorance is that the city further suggests it will “ensure 20 new businesses are established annually.” Is the city proposing to provide those individuals the all-important benefit of health care? It can be the single highest cost of doing business, and if it is “taken care of,” the city creates an artificial success that can’t be sustained (and will surely be disdained by competitors already in the market).

It will not be a city staff person in the hot seat if those businesses can’t survive with a true free-market customer base; it will be the business owner left holding a DBA and debt. How can that be considered helpful?

If this new “goal” is not wholly ignorant, it is the height of government arrogance.

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