Lapses in city and private sector leadership critical for Grand Rapids


One could say Grand Rapids is facing an uncertain future, or one could say that future hangs in the balance of critical decisions in the immediate future. The structures that have built the city to an unprecedented chapter of success are now left wanting leadership in both the public and private sectors. The Business Journal cites reasons for concern:

The strength of the partnership forged between the two sectors and the importance of each working in concert with the other has become legend in communities across the state and Midwest region. The private sector business leaders identified key needs for economic growth of Michigan’s second-largest but least known city, especially as Grand Rapids was compared to Flint.

The private sector identified, through outside business leaders, what quality of life elements were missing to draw their investments and jobs to the city and West Michigan region. On the strength of what would now be referred to as “Shark Tank” understanding of bottom-line necessities, true cost and calculated return in the private sector, key issues were identified. Beyond the bottom-line formula, it also calculated necessary amounts of private sector donations and support to reduce taxpayer burden in public-sector funding. It has been necessary to have built a trust with public-sector politicians, so that once project support was pledged, no further negotiation was needed even as new public leaders took office.

Grand Rapids Business Journal reported last week the famed Grand Action business leaders, from the chairs to the hundreds of business donors, were taking their leave, opening the door to a new generation of business leaders. In Business Journal reporting this week, it would seem there are cracks in the road to any private donations providing a foundation for 2.0 projects, and there is great uncertainty about private sector business leadership committed to community first.

Likewise, there is even greater uncertainty in public sector leadership, as both the Kent County administrator and Grand Rapids city manager retire this year. The strength of current leadership within city hall is frayed, in part by retirement consequences, but which also eroded after the mayoral leadership changeover, which has been followed by frequently cast dispersions that staff expertise is ignored in favor of outside quasi-governmental agencies and the latest “popular” opinion or trend in the general public; the type of thing that engenders little private sector desire for involvement.

In fact, private sector involvement has been feigned by artificial representation from “outside consultants” and quasi-government groups, a reliance currently proving costly to downtown building owners losing business tenants to the suburbs in the wake of new city policies.

The city (and county) is obligated to concern themselves with economic keystones and goals (and perhaps less on tree canopies for the moment). The public sector must involve the private sector in city and county staff selections and participation in establishing financially successful next-step goals that serve Grand Rapids’ economic future. The party is over; the work must begin now.

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