Why we are who we are


Three items in today’s Business Journal taken together represent the quintessential West Michigan.

First, news of the Corner Bar’s rebuild in Rockford. The longtime icon north of downtown Grand Rapids was lost to fire late last summer. Grand Rapids-based Orion Construction signed on for the reconstruction and steel was laid at the site last week. Even though the fire was extensive, owners Jeff and Sarah Wolfe determined saving even part of the structure, as opposed to a total tear-down-and-build-brand-new, was worth the effort. Preserving some of the West Michigan history lodged in the watering hole was important to them.

“It would have been easier to demolish the entire building and start new, but it was important to us to do everything we could to preserve the old walls. We want the community to have something to remember their old memories and time spent at the Corner growing up,” Jeff Wolfe said.

That is very much a West Michigan way of thinking. In return, Orion used steel-painted black and orange — Rockford High School’s primary colors — and placed a “Go Rams” message for all to see on the section facing Main Street. Again, very West Michigan.

But West Michigan is about more than just feel-good stories. A partnership started last August between over-the-counter drug maker Perrigo Inc. and global giant Amazon.com Inc. already is showing dividends. It also shows West Michigan has something to offer the biggest businesses in the world and working with the local business community can and usually does prove to be a profitable exercise for all involved. That Perrigo planned to quietly launch the partnership without much fanfare also is very much a West Michigan thing.

Fifteen years ago, West Michigan’s claim to fame was its dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working employees. Companies like Steelcase, Amway, Meijer and a bevy of auto suppliers made their names on the backs of West Michigan workers.

One huge recession, a lackadaisical approach to funding education and a significant exodus of young talent to the coasts and bigger cities later, and that notion was quashed.

Rather than whine, however, West Michigan did what West Michigan does. Talent 2025 was formed; the construction and manufacturing industries forced their way into the high schools to enlighten younger students, and businesses looked for partnerships that would refill the talent pipeline.

One of those initiatives is the Talent Pipeline Management Academy in conjunction with Consumers Energy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce. The plan is to equip members of the region’s economic and workforce development communities with strategies that can be used in West Michigan to replenish what was lost over the last decade or so.

In short, West Michigan decided to solve its own problem — which is a very West Michigan thing to do.

Watching out for one another, embracing our history, engaging national business partners and fixing our own problems are quintessentially the West Michigan way.

It‘s why we are who we are.

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