The importance of being welcoming to all


In his latest State of the City speech, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said: “Talent comes in all shapes and forms and colors and ethnicities. It is homegrown and it finds its way here from someplace else. It is the young entrepreneur and the seasoned research scientist; the designer, the architect, the programmer, the doctor and the professor. In a knowledge economy such as ours, talent is wealth. The cities that retain and attract talent are winning; the others are losing.”

Exactly! The asset that matters most to the future prosperity of states and regions is human capital: the knowledge, creativity and entrepreneurship of its citizens.

In a word: talent. As Gov. Rick Snyder wrote: “Today, talent has surpassed other resources as the driver of economic growth.”

The bottom line is straightforward: The places with the greatest concentration of talent from anyplace on the planet win! A core characteristic of prosperous places in a flattening world is they are welcoming to all. Talent is both diverse and mobile. If a place is not welcoming, it cannot retain and attract talent. People will not live and work in a community that isn’t welcoming.

Mayor Heartwell in his State of the City speech and Gov. Snyder is his State of the State address both vigorously made the case for the region and the state to be more welcoming to immigrants. That’s a big step in the right direction.

As they both noted, immigrants are good for the economy. So are gays, and people — as the mayor puts it — from “all colors and ethnicities.”

The importance of diversity and being welcoming to economic success is something in which the West Michigan business community has been far ahead of the general public and way too many politicians.

The Business Journal, in a 2002 interview on the topic, quotes Steelcase President and CEO James Hackett as saying: “And so we look at that ‘best of class’ kind of city — cities where diversity seems to be thriving in business — and you’ll find the community works extremely well in tandem to that. One test is asking young minorities where (they) prefer to live and why, which we’ve done in surveys. Grand Rapids doesn’t hit high on their list because it doesn’t seem an inviting place. Or, when we transfer people in and out of the city, that’s an issue that comes up. There are other cities they would prefer. Atlanta would be one; Chicago. There seems to be a broader base for acceptance and integration.”

So it’s great news for the future of the region that Grand Rapids has a mayor who understands the importance of being welcoming to all. So, too, is the new Right Place strategic plan for the region, which identifies diversity and inclusion as a priority.

Beyond the region, state policy matters, as well. Welcoming is an area where Michigan has not been a leader. Gov. Snyder’s leadership on immigration is an important step forward.

Minnesota provides a model. Its policies across the board are more welcoming than here. Gays can marry; there is no ban on affirmative action at public universities and they have a Dream Act that allows undocumented students who graduated from state high schools to obtain in-state tuition.

As we have explored previously, Minnesota is by far the leader among Great Lakes states in both employment and personal income. It has the economic outcomes all of us want for the region and state. It gets those results in large part from its talent concentration, which also is the best in the Great Lakes. It is almost certain that Minnesota’s ability to retain and attract talent is helped by its welcoming policies.

Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Future Inc.

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