How Policy Drives Us Toward Being the Best Mid-Size City
Last week, the Grand Rapids Chamber hosted the Grand Rapids Policy Conference and released a to-do list following a half-day discussion on Grand Rapids’ future.
Insights were shared by national and local thought leaders on Grand Rapids’ resilience and our ability to tackle challenges like housing and public safety, as well as opportunities create a more vibrant region and leverage ARPA funding in a transformational way. Find a summary of key takeaways below.
“We don’t want to be the next Austin, Atlanta or Albuquerque. We want to be the next best version of Grand Rapids,” said Rick Baker, Grand Rapids Chamber President & CEO. “As I talk with business leaders from across the country, they are consistently impressed with what we are able to accomplish in our region.”
“I believe we have what it takes to address issues like housing and public safety outcomes and can continue the momentum in our region. It is up to all of us to get it done,” Baker added.
As a result, the to-do list items coming out of the event include:
- Helping to increase the ease of doing business downtown and throughout our neighborhoods to support a vibrant economic ecosystem.
- Bringing together business, philanthropy, civic/nonprofit, and government to accelerate economic inclusion.
- Fostering community support for transformational projects and the most effective use of ARPA dollars.
- Working with all stakeholders to promote the safe, vibrant environment everyone in our community deserves and support businesspeople speaking up on public safety issues.
- Building a coalition of community members that support increased housing supply at all price points and engagement with local elected officials.
“My biggest takeaway from today is how unbelievably fortunate we are as a city to have a room full of people across all sectors who deeply care,” said Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. “What sets Grand Rapids apart is the people who call it home – the people who continue to step up and celebrate the great things that are happening, but also have honest conversations about the challenges we’re facing.”
Key Takeaways from our Speakers
Business Engagement in Local Government
Josh Lunger, Vice President of Government Affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber, introduced all things policy by giving context to how policymakers and business leaders work in tandem.
- Local policy impacts our everyday lives more than many people realize.
- Local policy is personal. Many major projects start with just a few people around a table who want to make an impact.
- Our focus is on improving outcomes, building a consensus, and keeping good policies simple.
Transformational Projects for Grand Rapids’ Future
Carol Van Andel and Tom Welch of Grand Action 2.0 gave insight into some major projects that have historically changed the cultural landscape of Grand Rapids, such as DeVos Place and the Van Andel Arena. On the horizon is another major upgrade, a riverfront amphitheater which would attract over 300,000 visitors to Grand Rapids each year and add functional green spaces and walkways. View a rendering of the project here.
Going forward, the Chamber will continue to foster community support for transformational projects like the amphitheater and upgrading the tower at the airport.
How Small Businesses Shape our City
Rich App, Retail, Retention, and Attraction Specialist for the Grand Rapids Chamber hosted a panel with leaders to discuss Grand Rapids’ small business environment and our rapidly growing downtown.
- Arick Davis, Co-Founder of Last Mile Café, explained how it’s easier to start a business and excel in Grand Rapids than it is in a huge city. Pushing into regional and national markets comes more naturally when you have access to entrepreneurial support resources and a strong community.
- Jen Brummitt, CEO of Gazelle Sports, described Gazelle’s transition to downtown and how Grand Rapid’s downtown events and city culture helped them connect with their consumers differently.
- Douglas Small, President and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, shared that Grand Rapids is competitive to other cities such as Pittsburgh and Columbus – our mid-size city with a big-city feel even competes with L.A. for hosting events and conferences.
A Glance at Public Safety
Accountability, transparency, and policy changes can lead to restored trust between a community and those who serve it. Grand Rapids City Manager, Mark Washington, and Grand Rapids Police Chief, Eric Winstrom, shared how community members can contribute to building a safer city.
911 Mental Health Response – The revised 911 system is now able to dispatch mental health clinicians who can access medical records and connect individuals to treatment immediately.
A busy city is a safe city – By keeping businesses open, this additional presence and foot traffic keeps our neighborhoods safer.
If you see something, say something – With limited police presence, the best way to keep track of pubic safety is to receive real-time updates.
The Future of Housing
Grand Rapids is experiencing a housing crisis, with a significantly lower number of units projected than are needed to support a growing city.
Ryan Kilpatrick from Housing Next highlighted the “Yes in My Backyard” campaign. Get involved – reach out to Brooke@grandrapids.org for more info.
Edward Pinto of the AEI Housing Center emphasized the need for light-touch density housing, which would provide more mid-size housing options that are accessible to the average family.
Diane Yentel of the National Low Income Housing Coalition explained that we must not only prioritize getting people housed, but keeping people housed.
Need the Details?
Find more resources from the conference, including our speakers’ slides, here.