To continue growth, the foundation of success must be understood


Newcomers and even long-time Grand Rapids residents often react to the city’s growth and new building plans as though these budding community icons simply popped out of the ground — while they were looking or paying attention.

One must ask why and how a business owner would wish to invest millions of dollars in projects such as condo and apartment buildings, new restaurants and hotels. It should be obvious that, without a growing population base, Grand Rapids might still be the sleepy town of 1950, with no airport. The population base could not grow without the jobs provided by an increasing number of employers.

The continued success and growth of the region’s iconic businesses like Steelcase, Amway, Lear Siegler and Lacks offered the opportunity to invite a growing number of businesses to the region, and provided the financial wherewithal for new entrepreneurs. The process was slow and information was scattered.

Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel issued a call to action and led the founding of The Right Place Inc., celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. The second private, nonprofit economic development group in the Midwest was located in Grand Rapids.

And just as people still remark about projects in this community, who would have thought such an entity would be in Grand Rapids? Its long-term economic impact, still transparently measurable in 2015, has been the result of inspired and inspiring leadership, capturing $4 billion in capital investments and more than 40,000 jobs in the region. That’s impetus for new residential units, retailers and services.

It must also be said that few regional economic development agencies have marked so many years. It must be said that most are agencies of government, not privately funded groups committed to public projects; some are privately funded for a business owner’s interests.

It also must be noted that, with the whims of politicians, publicly funded economic development agencies often are unceremoniously chopped (along with millions of dollars of projects in the pipelines) by political will. One need only consider Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s recent legislative defunding movement, exacerbated by the loss of Indian casino payments in protest of the state’s willful breech of its treaty with the tribes.

Employment is not the only factor for maintaining population growth; it has been sustained by “quality of life” opportunities that have become increasingly available. Continued economic growth was seeded by the private investments (then bringing public investment) to build the Van Andel Arena. When the arena first opened, its pipeline of entertainment options would take years to come to fruition; they did not magically appear when the doors opened. The partnership investing in the Grand Rapids Griffins and formation of the team were the primary drivers of ticket sales and arena crowds. The hockey team begins its 20th season Oct. 9.

The Business Journal notes the fundamental accomplishments of The Right Place leaders and staff members, and its foresighted founder, Jay Van Andel.

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