The rush on Congress to prove the necessity of a bailout package for Michigan’s Big Three has certainly manipulated the psyche of residents throughout the state, perhaps even more than the portent of automaker failures.
But lest such gloom permanently pervade the Grand Rapids region, it is important to note some of the events of the past week, once again underscoring the differences between East and West, and therefore the ability and the creativity that exists here to soldier on and succeed.
News organizations in Detroit focused on the “implosion” and certain “collapse” of Detroit Public Schools, state funding, a state takeover and the unforgivable failure of its students in the Knowledge Economy (DPS has the lowest graduation rate among all large U.S. cities). But for decades the Grand Rapids Public Schools has been a part of the business community’s concern. Its current and immediate past superintendents faced parents with heart-wrenching decisions to close schools and consolidate, using charter schools to elaborate on specific subjects and finding ways that area philanthropists could assist in the rebuilding — and help assure the success of students so needed in this job market.
Just south, the Kalamazoo Promise shook the timbers of every school district in the land.
The Detroit News editorials of the past week have pleaded that DPS leaders look to the West for solutions and even provided a list of them taken from the GRPS history book.
Grand Rapids leaders have been right on target. But it may still not have occurred to those in the East that the failure of the automakers and the collapse of public schools are knitted together; it is a cycle of sameness and lack of innovation. The very moniker of our time, the Knowledge Economy, is still met with skepticism and denial by a region still holding firm to the belief that there will always be a job on an assembly line. Education, even a high school education, has not been valued. All Michigan residents will pay long in the future for this failure alone.
The “fallout” from the decline in the domestic automotive industry began in this region years ago as the Big Three choked suppliers, closed the plant in Coopersville and recently targeted Wyoming. This is a community experienced in dealing with the impact and unwilling to pin its economy on the ways of the East. The Business Journal has reported hundreds of stories just in the past half-dozen years of the changeovers in manufacturing in Grand Rapids, of former auto suppliers now engaged in medical manufacturing or alternative energy component manufacturing.
Grand Rapids not only has a “foothold” on the new economy of health care in all facets from research to manufacturing, it is considered Michigan’s crown jewel for such industries. Mayors, civic leaders and professional associations from across the state are in Grand Rapids to investigate sustainable business practices, rooted by West Michigan’s Big Three since the mid-1990s.
Last week the Business Journal reported that Lansing city officials have invited counterparts from Grand Rapids to sit and assist negotiation of union benefit plans based on the model here.
This is not a community preparing for a downturn; it already has been working hard for a dozen years to minimize the impact with new successes. The Grand Rapids region didn’t look for a bailout; it retooled. That, too, will be what others in Michigan wish to emulate.