Risk-takers provide ‘authentic’ spaces for next generations


As is customary, the delicate autopsy of the presidential election last Tuesday provided breakdowns of the voters and a thorough analysis of every ethnic group and both genders. What is striking is that the commentary from the major political parties and analysts was echoed during the University of Michigan/Urban Land Institute statewide commercial real estate conference on Wednesday and Thursday.

The difference was that the ultimate risk takers in real estate at the conference were well aware of the research that has led to a creative class dedicated to urban dwellings and lifestyle issues. They’ve been preparing the “place” for almost a decade.

Conference attendees did not dwell on what has been known, and instead turned their attention to “what’s next.” In Grand Rapids, that contrast and the research is apparently still not well enough understood, if one is to believe the consistent urging of regional developers to their wider audience to take heed.

Beyond the technological advances that see individuals texting rather than calling one another, the studies show the Millennial generation is less inclined to buy cars, preferring public transportation, and they travel extensively. The ballot attempt to pull the city of Walker from The Rapid transit system was defeated, and the reiterated evidence of its need was provided by the conference.

The developers are preparing a place of mobile work areas that look more like Starbucks. Regional office furniture makers have taken note of the “no cubicles” mandate and are creating office furniture more akin to what is found in a living room. Steelcase was among the first to take down the walls, and in its own development center in the early 1990s created a circular path to work areas to reinforce workers crossing paths and sharing ideas. It is the preferred model.

Even more important to the developers was the research related to all meanings of the word “mobility.” The generation for whom they are building does not have an appetite for owning homes and locking in to locations. The same can be said for their “offices.” A report in The Trend emphasized, “You are your office.”

The reality of a diverse work force, as in the election, was emphasized repeatedly.

Mike VanGessel, leader of Rockford Construction, told the developers on the closing day of the conference that, in regard to the region’s ability to continue to attract a creative work force, “We have to be intentional about how we treat Millennials. You have to value diversity; it has to be intentional — authentic.”

In fact, “authentic” was deemed by the conference’s esteemed attendees as the “take-away” word of the year.

The Business Journal notes it is the take-away word not just from the conference or Election Day. It’s the operating mission for business and for the country.

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