Ask a random person about cities in Michigan, and they’ll probably be able to name Detroit and…and…that’s about it. Fourth graders learning state capitals would add Lansing to the list as well. Unless you are from Michigan, cities like Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids just aren’t that well known. But lately Grand Rapids has been on the upswing lately and has been getting significant good press from national sources.
Forbes just named it #3 on their list of Best Small and Midsize Cities for Jobs 2014. Actually, Grand Rapids has made so many of Forbes’s “Best” lists, it’s almost suspicious. It’s been on their Best Places for Businesses and Careers, Happiest Cities, Emerging Downtowns, Best Places to Raise a Family, and Best Cities for Finding Employment, among others.
Lonely Planet designated Grand Rapids one of its Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2014. Time Magazine named Art Prize, Grand Rapid’s open air art festival, one of it’s Five Favorite Festivals Worldwide for 2013. And Grand Rapids was also named Beer City for 2013 for the second year in a row by beer enthusiasts online.
There’s no doubt that the city has been busy renovating and expanding itself, but why it’s been more successful at it than many other fading Midwest cities, is debated. Part of the credit must be given to the city’s very generous philanthropic donors who have invested in the city again and again, refusing to let it die. It’s been a long process of revitalization, and Downtown has undergone some significant changes in the last decade and now boasts many revamped food, culture, sports, and artistic attractions. People want to come to places already in demand, but they forget the people who created that demand with vision, hard work, and generosity.
But another reason that Grand Rapids hasn’t gone the way of other post-manufacturing cities is that the community consists of not just hard working industry CEOs, but hardworking small business owners, and trustworthy citizens. In a recent interview Max Friar, a West Michigan business broker, described the climate:
“What makes Grand Rapids different is a strong, conservative, honest work ethic that runs thick through the small business community. I think that West Michiganders like to do business with each other because in general there is a sense of trust that permeates business relations. Certainly companies have contracts, but I genuinely smile at how many people do business on a handshake. That says a lot about a community.”
Cliff Wegner, of Mighty in the Midwest, agrees: “I haven’t tried to launch anything in another city, but I do feel that Grand Rapids has a very inviting, knowledgeable community as a whole. Whether it’s in the entrepreneur community, or tech, manufacturing, or anything else, the people are great. When you then add the growing startup culture, there just aren’t any barriers. You can meet the kind of people you need to, without having to work your way through levels of assistants and phone screeners; the people here are just inherently kind, and I think that creates more opportunities for learning, education, and support than you may find in a bigger city with bigger egos.
Ultimately, a successful city needs multiple levels of great leadership, and right now Grand Rapids has it, as well as a number of building advantages on varying levels – civic, educational, economic, and community. It’s a great time to live in this city.