The Chamber’s priorities for regional and local advocacy have been further honed by business leaders to focus on the elements that are critical to vibrancy.
While our team is working hard to ensure a Michigan business climate that promotes job creation, the Municipal Council has set a pro-growth agenda that focuses on:
- Transformational Projects
- Safe Communities
- Increased Housing Supply
Why Does it Matter?
Having engaged, informed and active business leadership is critical to our success. The Council guides the Chamber’s local efforts and is honed in on three key areas to promote a thriving business environment. These factors are critical in overall vibrancy and improving quality of life and are often cited as a major determining factor in attracting and retaining talent, employers and investment.
- Reversing the Urban Doom Loop
- City Engages Employers on Parking
- What to Expect from Lansing in 2024
- Safety Remains a Top Business Priority
- 2024: Big Year for Big Projects
- 2024 Election
- Growing Michigan Together Council Releases Report
- How to Get Engaged
Dash of Data: Visitor Activity
Throughout 2023, the daily visitor count in downtown Grand Rapids has consistently stayed above the 5-year average, with November seeing a 12% increase.
Urban Boom or Urban Doom:
Across America, many cities and metro areas are facing the same challenges leading to a phenomenon called the “Urban Doom Loop.” The loop starts off simple — all it takes is a decrease in population for the cycle to be set in motion:
As quality-of-life decreases, people leave. Tax revenue is reduced. Cuts must be made. Quality of life drops, and more people leave.
San Francisco serves as the common example of the dangers of the urban doom loop:
- Since 2020, the Bay Area has lost a quarter of a million residents.
- San Francisco’s population has dropped 7.2%.
- The city has an almost 30% office vacancy rate, up from around 5% in 2019.
But cities across the Midwest face similar challenges as well:
- Minneapolis has 21.2 million square feet of vacant office space and expects to max out at 75% of its pre-pandemic workforce.
- The Midwest as a region has lost over 400,000 residents from 2020 to 2022.
Our Goal: Reverse the Loop
A review of more successful cities shows a common thread. Their leaders point to a focus on:
- Attraction and retention of talent
- Investments in the “livability” of the city
- Frequently note cleanliness, safety, green spaces, and entertainment.
- Promoting unity between public and private sectors behind a shared goal
Our goal is to reverse the loop. With the support of business leadership and continued public-private collaboration, the Grand Rapids metro is poised to do just that. A number of investments based on a successful P3 model are planned for 2024 (more info below!).
How Our Priorities Align:
A significant majority of West Michigan’s growth comes from within Michigan. A scientific survey of Michigan youth ages 18-29 had housing attainability (housing supply) and low crime rates (safe communities) as the top two considerations on their minds. Entertainment, amenities and recreational opportunities (transformational projects) were also rated high under several categories.
- The City of Grand Rapids has taken a number of actions to address clean, healthy and safe public spaces and the difference has been noticeable.
- Grand Action 2.0 is leading the effort with numerous public and private partners to bring transformational investment.
- Housing Next is working to create financing tools and remove regulatory barriers to housing supply and affordability.
This fall the Mobile GR Department held several roundtables with property owners, business managers, real estate professionals and more.
What Was Discussed?
The parking and mobility department was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 and the extended shutdown which created a projected deficit. They are evaluating options and gathering feedback on several different approaches for the next budget year.
One meeting focused mostly on safety and cleanliness in off-street parking ramps. Mobile GR reported they have taken actions since the first discussions including changes to the cleaning schedule of ramps, improvements to the security, increased camera coverage and routine stairwell checks. They will also be working to have more cleaning done during the day in the ramps.
What Was the Outcome?
There was a strong consensus on a few items. That costs for monthly parking permits are a concern for downtown employers and that special events prices and on-street parking enforcement hours could be evaluated to support revenue needs.
The Mobile GR Commission recommended funding strategies align with the feedback above to the City Manager & Commission. Greater details will come with the next budget year.
Quarterly meetings will be held next year with city staff and stakeholders to continue to improve feedback, communications and build relationships. Want to get engaged? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chamber had a successful year in supporting legislation, including:
- The expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act
- Ending the unfair delivery and installation tax
- Allowing tax increment financing for workforce housing
- Increasing the earned income tax credit
What’s on the Agenda?
The Governor is pushing for action on the “Make it in Michigan” economic development package which includes changes/funding for the SOAR incentive program, the R&D tax credit and more. The language of the Senate-introduced legislation was not received well by Republicans and has so far sputtered out. An effort is underway for a bipartisan workgroup to get things moving again.
The Governor also announced a new vehicle tax credit initiative which favors electric and union-made vehicles. She is expected to mention this and more in her 6th State of the State in January.
What Else Should I Know?
- With the House partisan split now 54-54 due to the election of two House Dems to mayoral seats, items won’t be able to move on party-line votes until late April.
- Committees, however, remain stacked heavily in favor of House Democrats. This means even partisan items could advance through the Committee process to be taken up later in the year.
- The Senate remains at 20-18 Democratic control and could also advance items to tee up in the House.
- Lame duck should concern employers on items that currently lack votes to advance. The session days following the election, particularly if the House flips Republican, could mean a track race to finish items before split control returns.
What is the Chamber Doing?
We are meeting locally with members and legislators to discuss unintended consequences of a number of bills and doubling-down on broad coalitions to increase effective advocacy for:
- Going Pro funding increased to $110 million in FY 2024-25 budget
- Childcare: Remove federal red tape and expanding programs in the state
- Reducing regulatory obstacles for housing
- Immigration reform
What is the Chamber Opposing?
- We will oppose any new onerous impacts on employers that will limit job creation.
In response to continued business interest, the Grand Rapids Chamber held two safety trainings in November for businesses and employees to be prepared for whatever situations they may encounter.
- On behalf of South Division Businesses, we facilitated Safety Training at Four Star Theater led by Jayme Nunn and DK Security to cover verbal de-escalation and situational awareness. Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom and Captain Terry Dixon also attended and answered questions. This training featured Spanish translation to accommodate our Spanish-speaking community.
- We held an additional Safety Training at the Chamber, led by Jason Russell and Secure Environment Consultants that covered what to be prepared for and how to respond to workplace incidents and emergencies.
Read more about these trainings here.
The projected impact of these projects means hundreds of jobs and more than a billion in net new economic impact. The impact of the projects goes far beyond their physical limits and will catalyze thousands of housing units, mixed-use development, and investment in greenspace and trails.
But There’s More:
Several other noticeable projects are underway or about to kick off including Lyon Square, Grand Rapids Public Museum Expansion, the Grand River Greenway, Factory Yards, River North, Corewell Health’s Center for Transformation and Innovation, and more.
What Else Should I Know?
Much like the “doom loop,” everything is connected. These investments and a vibrant business environment will spur further investment and raise the quality of life for current and future residents.
Big Changes Coming:
The announcement that Third Ward City Commissioner Nathanial Moody will resign from his position on December 31st for personal reasons means that three of the seven members of the Grand Rapids City Commission will not be returning in 2025.
Commissioner Jon O’Connor (Ward 1) and Mayor Rosalynn Bliss are term limited. With the Mayor and both commissioners leaving office, experience in leadership and small business is significantly impacted.
Why Does it Matter?
Leadership matters and with the challenges noted above facing cities, it is critical that high quality candidates are elected to fill these seats.
Dash of Data: Office Vacancy
In the third quarter of 2023, Grand Rapids had a 9.6% office vacancy rate, equaling about 10.2 million square feet of vacant office space. This was an increase of 0.3% from the previous quarter.
The Growing Michigan Together Council, established by Governor Whitmer to address Michigan’s population challenges, released its final findings and recommendations on December 15th.
The Chamber will evaluate specific proposals tied to these goals through our committee and board process.
Michigan’s population growth is ranked 49th out of 50. To make the state a top 10 in population growth, the Council recommends the following:
- Establish Michigan as the Innovation Hub of the Midwest and America’s Scale-up State: Develop an economic plan focused on innovation and increasing Michigan’s household income to attract and retain young talent.
- Build a life-long learning system focused on future-ready skills and competencies: Guarantee an additional year of schooling to ensure students meet the standards to thrive in work and life, increase the accessibility and affordability of higher education, reimagine the job of teaching and structure of the school day, and eliminate inefficiencies in our lifelong learning system.
- Create thriving, resilient communities that are magnets for young talent: Develop a robust and reliable public transit across the state, revitalize housing stock, and future proof Michigan’s infrastructure.
The Council’s recommendations will be presented to the Governor and the public for use in future planning for Michigan.
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The Friends of West Michigan Business Political Action Committee provides a voice to the business community to support pro-business and pro-growth candidates at the local, state, federal level.