James Keeps City In Line

    MUSKEGON — Kenneth James looks like the kind of man who can shake things up in a city government or a corporate office, or even the foundation of a small building. The former offensive lineman at Kentucky State University is an intimidating figure, but he’s also a man with an intimidating job.

    James is the affirmative action director for the City of Muskegon, and it has been his task for the last five years to create employment and personal opportunities for the residents of Muskegon, both minority and otherwise.

    “I serve a role in both the private and public sectors, external and internal functions,” James explained. “A good portion of my job is outreach into the City of Muskegon’s development, to foster positive relationships, good business relationships.

    “We can offer tax abatements to businesses, we do job training and skill development,” he said. “I’ve especially seen an increased commitment to job training since I’ve been here. Overall, we’re looking to create better employment opportunities for our residents.”

    The city is able to offer incentives in several ways to businesses, but the most alluring is the tax abatements that James oversees. Many times, a company may be looking to expand but is not immediately willing to for a variety of reasons. Some may even look to foster expansion in an area outside of Muskegon.

    Muskegon is able to offer a property tax break to make that expansion more appealing to the company. So, a company that at one time employed 200 Muskegon residents in its original factory now can employ 250 Muskegon residents in its expanded factory — while enjoying a property tax break to ensure the expansion was worthwhile.

    “Particularly, though, we work with businesses that are considering relocating to Muskegon,” James added. “We offer the tax break and work to facilitate their move, and in return they agree to take part in our affirmative action program, advertise within the community, take on our residents, and be willing to train our residents.”

    James cites ADAC Plastics within the Port City Industrial Area as the “poster child” of the program.

    “The number of women and minorities they employ far exceeds our expectations,” James said. “They’ve done a very good job of that.”

    As James’ title would imply, he also does a fair share of recruiting for the City of Muskegon, a task that encompasses a larger portion of his job than any other.

    “I’m fortunate to be part of a government that is very passionate about developing programs,” James said. “The goal of our recruitment program is nothing less than to ultimately mirror the make-up of our community.”

    James is also the Muskegon representative of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, through which he is able to make decisions on wrongful termination, sexual harassment and other discrimination cases. Despite turbulent times within the state government, including an election year and layoffs, James has found his department to be as healthy and effective as ever, even with less manpower.

    Born and raised in San Diego as part of a Navy family, James knew he was going to be a civil servant as early as 1993, when he served as an intern with the San Diego County Board of Administrators.

    “That opened my eyes,” he said. “I knew I wanted to work in government at that point. I just wasn’t sure what aspect yet.”

    A year later, after graduating from Kentucky State, James came to Grand Valley State University as a graduate assistant and later as a residence hall director. He earned his master’s degree in public administration and took a job with the school working in minority affairs. It was there he found his niche, and soon moved on to his current position with the City of Muskegon.

    Since then, James has entrenched his roots in the Muskegon community, and has worked to improve on his new home through both his occupation and his free time. He has helped develop programs such as the Foster Grand-Parents, Men of Character and the Intercultural Community Leaders Academy. The Foster Grand-Parents involves seniors who volunteer their time in schools mentoring children, as well as spending time with less mobile seniors.

    Men of Character is another mentoring program, of which James is a founding member, that provides strong role models to Muskegon’s young men.

    The Intercultural Community Leaders Academy is a 16-week course through Muskegon Community College designed to train eager candidates to do work within nonprofit organizations, focusing on lessons in public administration and public speaking. One recent graduate, Eddie Gardner, now serves on the Muskegon Heights school board and is director of the Small Business Association for a Grand Rapids bank.

    James also serves as a deacon at his church. His wife, Tamasha, is principal of William C. Abney Academy in Grand Rapids.           

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