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Loving, living & leaving: Why we call Grand Rapids home, why we don't & what that means for our city

What makes a city a home? And, specifically, what makes Grand Rapids a place where people want to lay down roots? Or, on the other hand, want to leave? Current and former Grand Rapidians, from CEOs and entrepreneurs to musicians and retirees, weigh in on what our city does well to make people stay — and what it could do better.

What makes a city a home? And, specifically, what makes Grand Rapids a place where people want to lay down roots? Or, on the other hand, want to leave? Current and former Grand Rapidians, from CEOs and entrepreneurs to musicians and retirees, weigh in on what our city does well to make people stay — and what it could do better.
Dorothy was right: There’s no place like home.

We’ve known this for, well, what seems like forever. From Odysseus’s decade-long voyage home to Dorothy’s entanglements with witches and flying monkeys in order to return to Auntie Em, this idea of “home” is one that has inspired us throughout the ages, whether you’re an author living in 8th century BC, a young girl from Kansas in the 1930s or a Grand Rapidian in 2016.

But, what, exactly is home? And what makes a city — specifically, Grand Rapids — home?

Let’s consult a Pew Research Center survey that, in 2008, defined home as the “place in your heart you consider to be home.” Which...leaves a lot to be defined.

So, ok, how about the Dalai Lama? He says, “Home is where you feel at home and are treated well.”

Quotes about home seem to exist to an almost infinite degree, but, for good measure, here’s one more from Maya Angelou: “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Home and whatever that ends up meaning to us as humans is buried so deep within us that, when it’s absent, it actually causes us physical pain: i.e. homesickness. Home is more than a physical place. It’s a feeling. It is complicated, messy, emotional, and, ultimately, highly subjective.

Why does this matter?

Understanding what makes a city a home is important. Because once we understand what is important, we can have those difficult conversations that get us to the point of being a city where everyone feels at home and are treated well. Where everyone can say: I belong here. I love it here.

So, what makes a city a home?

It depends on who you ask.

For organizations like the Lakeshore Advantage and Hello West Michigan, home is at the heart of their mission.

Lakeshore Advantage, a non-profit economic development agency recently launched  Michigan Smart Coast, a website that touts the career and lifestyle opportunities that West Michigan has to offer in order to attract and retain talent in the region. With low unemployment rates and high demand for tech, design and other professionals, the website essentially tells a story of why the cities in our region are great places to build a career and make home.

Hello West Michigan educates people about the West Michigan region and helps people interested in relocating here.

Cindy BrownExecutive Director Cindy Brown cares deeply about what makes a city a home and works closely with the public and private sector to help them be more successful in attracting talent to the region.

From her experience in helping to convince people to make Grand Rapids home, Brown knows that this thing called home is incredibly complex. Opportunity is important. Good jobs. Family. Fun stuff to do. But that really only begins the conversation. “It takes a holistic, all-encompassing approach because people don’t always just relocate for a great job opportunity; they move to live in a great community,” Brown says. “The trick is figuring out what a ‘great community’ means to the individual candidate and their family.”

That can be tricky indeed.

It depends on who you ask.

Of special interest to Brown are “boomerangs,” or people who either grew up or went to college here, moved away, and now want to come back, often with “trailing significant others.”

So, what makes a city a home for “boomerangs” and “trailing significant others”?

Brown shares her experience, explaining that the top reasons they’ve found through one-on-one conversations with more than 1,200 candidates are:
  • Boomerangs: have a young family or want to start a family. Having grandparents around for babysitting makes that easier.
  • Boomerangs: want to buy a house. This is virtually impossible for a young person in a big city. The cost of living in West Michigan makes it a reality.
  • Boomerangs: want some work/life balance. This is especially prevalent for seasoned workers who aren’t ready to retire yet but want something that is not as high pressure or as many hours as a previous position. They also see this with mid-career professionals who are ready for balance or people who have vacationed here.
  • Trailing significant others: they want to know there are career opportunities for themselves and that there are things to do in the community.
Pretty straightforward for these folks: family, cost of living, small town vibe/big city amenities, job opportunities, and interesting things to do in the community.

So, what else could be missing?

The Rapid Growth team was also curious about this question, not necessarily for for the same reasons as Hello West Michigan but more to learn about what Grand Rapids does well and what needs to be worked on. What does our city do to keep people here  and draw them in? And, on the other hand, why do people leave and what could we do differently to make them want to stay  or return?

We asked a few questions of more than a dozen folks, from musicians and freelance web designers to CEOs and retirees, who roughly fell into one of these three categories:
  • People who moved here and now call Grand Rapids home.
  • People who moved away and now call another city home.
  • People who are on the fence about staying here.
Our findings: What makes a city a home and why we should care?

It depends on who you ask!

We’ve excerpted quotes from the interviews and divvied them out into three buckets:
  • Our sweet spot (things we are pretty good at)
  • Needs improvement  (more work to be done)
  • We need to do better (Danger Will Robinson. Difficult conversations ahead.)
Following these excerpts are the full interviews.

Our sweet spot

I love this place! Community, opportunity, good people, and a damn good music/arts scene.

A community that is willing and ready to speak out and stand up against issues that affect our communities.

People are very kind here. They will wave, smile and ask about your day even if they don't know you. I also love that the culture in GR is extremely conducive to the entrepreneurial spirit and is a place where small businesses can really thrive.
There's never a shortage of things to do, and I love that I can walk out my door, go to any restaurant, coffee shop, or store, and run into at least five friends.

Grand Rapids does everything it can to support innovation and provides support for those with an idea to make something new  to start a new business, to take a leap of faith, and not be afraid of failing.

The family-first type attitude and atmosphere that exists here was important to us. Beyond that, its connection to the wonderful natural resources that make Michigan stand out.

We were drawn to the character and positive momentum of this smaller city that had a more authentic vibe than Los Angeles.

Grand Rapids has a true sense of community, I love our street and neighbors (Hampton and Robinson in Eastown); people here are intelligent and genuine and truly care when they ask how you’re doing.

I  appreciate the diversity in cultures I can experience here. I am invested in a church that provides diversity, community and a place I can serve my community from.

Grand Rapids has a lot going for it. It is a progressive city; there is a lot of philanthropy, and they have a healthy start-up community.

Grand Rapids is blossoming into what I wished it was years ago: a place for entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Needs improvement

I actually would love to see more interest in style and fashion in GR. I wish you could dress like Carrie Bradshaw and not be gawked at, or that more people knew what haute couture meant, or that (please, I'm begging you) people would stop wearing jeans to weddings.

Most groups I have observed within the city only act as special interest groups for their defined space
 which is unfortunate. There is not a unified sense of responsibility around maintaining spaces that are welcoming to everyone residing in this community.

As good as our food scene has become, I would love to see the restaurant entrepreneurs reach a bit more with their offerings.

I would love to see the ballet and other organizations have greater access to resources so this vital part of West Michigan continues to grow.

The seemingly endless self-congratulation paired with the conservative values that still impact many areas of civic life in West Michigan did not align with my politics.

Two areas which trouble me about Grand Rapids, where I think the city is not progressive, are education and medicine.

Grand Rapids has everything I would look for in a city, although, the size may be the only thing it lacks. Excitement, entertainment and fast-paced lifestyles are usually sought after in bigger cities. Grand Rapids has all of that, but it’s just not as intense and therefore people seeking to move away may feel that their goals can be achieved in a bigger place with more connections and opportunity.

We need to do better

Diversity, diversity, diversity! We need to have more people of color sitting at the round tables
 and helping to make decisions regarding moving GR forward.

I would love to see more businesses run and owned by [people of color] and then supported by everyone. I would love to see more of the hard work it takes to bring about racial reconciliation. We need more [people of color] in places of power in our local government.

The other trouble area is medicine. We have some really beautiful hospital buildings, $70,000 Stryker beds, art all over the walls and prolific marketing, but if you look at our health outcomes, we really fall short.

When we visit family in Grand Rapids my fiancee and I often discuss moving to Grand Rapids, but we both know it would never happen.  The conversations usually start because we will have a nice meal  at a cool new restaurant, and we are amazed at what a great food / brew city Grand Rapids has become and because the cost of living is so low compared to Chicago.  However, all it takes is one moment of eavesdropping on nearby conversations to bring us back to reality. Too often we have overheard conversations where locals use racial slurs  or derogatory terms while talking about minorities. The west side of Michigan is still a really conservative place, and too often we see that mentality expressed in really ugly ways.

The intense levels of apathy towards individuals experiencing economic strain and immigration challenges is troubling to someone whose knowledge of this space is centered around the intense religious beliefs of this community seemingly always falling short in spaces where that belief means the aforementioned issues should be met with actions out of love.

Our city is too class separated and fragmented, which only cripples our collective force to surge forward and damages our culture balance.

Below, you’ll find the interviews Rapid Growth conducted.

People who either grew up or moved to GR and are building a life here


Linda Tellis aka Lady Ace Boogie
  • Age: 30
  • Job/Business: Coca-Cola Management Team / Chief Partner Think 50/50
  • Hometown: Atlanta GA
  • Where you currently live: Heritage Hill/Cherry Hill/ Downtown area
  • Other cities you have lived in: Charleston West Virginia; Dayton, Ohio; Sandusky Ohio; Akron, Ohio
Why do you call Grand Rapids home now?

I have met some of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life in Grand Rapids. My three best friends are from here. I have had some of the most amazing opportunities since I have been in GR. I love this place! Community, opportunity, good people, and a damn good music/arts scene.

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?

A community that is willing and ready to speak out and stand up against issues that affect our communities.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

Diversity, diversity, diversity! We need to have more people of color sitting at the round tables
 and helping to make decisions regarding moving GR forward. This place could be the best place in the world, but we have to solve the issue of Grand Rapids being one of the top worst places... for African Americans.

Ricardo A. O'Neal II
  • Age: 30-something
  • Job/Business: Creative Branding Guy  Aurikk/Brand Movement Group
  • Hometown: Grand Rapids
  • Where you currently live: Grand Rapids
  • Other cities you have lived in: Queens and Long Island, New York; Muskegon, Michigan; and Memphis, Tennessee
Why do you call Grand Rapids home now?

Grand Rapids is where I was born and raised. I've spent the majority of my life within the confines of this city. Therefore, I naturally have a strong hometown affinity for Grand Rapids. I'm team GR all the way, and every [fiber of my being] wants to see Grand Rapids be socially vibrant and economically thriving.

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?

Grand Rapids is a rather decent city with a plethora of opportunities and a bunch of untapped/diversified potential. That there intrigues me! Then, there is this "apple pie" empathy in this city has that resonates strong when it comes to a show of community altruism. Grand Rapidians have an innate stickiness about most things connected to the pulse of the city. Those aforementioned things are admirable and compels me to smile when I call "Grand Rapids" home.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

As a city, Grand Rapids needs to further evolve socially and openly flourish intellectually. Socially, Grand Rapids does its robust diversity a disservice. Our city is too class separated and fragmented, which only cripples our collective force to surge forward and damages our culture balance. Intellectually, this city is made up of a talented coterie of movers and shakers. However, I believe there should be more conducive entrepreneurial outlets that'll enable Grand Rapids to maximize its strengths and better position itself to be a city of national influence. Financially, I believe Grand Rapids can hold its own in that category. At the end of the day, if Grand Rapids' true aim is to be "grand,” there has to be a more centralized effort to do better in the areas that this city lacks.

Becky VandenBoutBecky VandenBout
  • Age: 31
  • Job/Business: Freelance web developer and owner of Style Logic, a fashion blog and styling service.
  • Hometown: Chesterfield, Michigan
  • Where you currently live: Rockford, Michigan
  • Other cities you have lived in: Detroit, Chesterfield, Flint for college, Novi/Farmington Hills, Grand Rapids, and Allendale, among others.
Why do you call Rockford home now?

This is where my family is, as well as the home and life that we've built together. It's where I landed my first full time job, bought my first home, found the love of my life, and had our baby girl. We've been through a lot here.

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?

People are very kind here. They will wave, smile and ask about your day even if they don't know you. I also love that the culture in GR is extremely conducive to the entrepreneurial spirit and is a place where small businesses can really thrive. We grow at our own pace here, and I love that about GR.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

OMG please add another lane to 131!  As I always say, I'd love to see more diversity in the tech industry. The Grand Rapids chapter of Girl Develop It is launching in September 2016.  I actually would love to see more interest in style and fashion in GR. I wish you could dress like Carrie Bradshaw and not be gawked at, or that more people knew what haute couture meant, or that (please, I'm begging you) people would stop wearing jeans to weddings. There are a handful of us fashion bloggers, boutiques and designers in the area trying to expose more folks to the industry and the art, but something like a fashion week or an instagram like @theseendetroit, but for GR, would be incredible. If you've got style, don't be afraid to show it because you just might inspire others to do the same.

Patricia BarkerPatricia Barker
  • Age: Old enough to know better
  • Job/Business: Artistic Director at the Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB)
  • Hometown: Seattle, Washington
  • Where you currently live: Heritage Hill
  • Other cities you have lived in: Seattle
Why do you call Grand Rapids home now?

Seattle will always feel like home to me. Pacific Northwest Ballet gave me an opportunity to grow as a dancer. I love my job at GRB; it gives me an opportunity to do the same for all my wonderful dancers.

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?  

The Downtown Market has made a big difference in my life, especially the Fish Lads. They bring a little of the Northwest to me here in GR.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?  

Grand Rapids has a very robust arts and culture community. I would love to see the ballet and other organizations have greater access to resources so this vital part of West Michigan continues to grow.

Kristina BirdKristina Bird
  • Age: 28
  • Job/Business: Self employed, Photographer / Studio Manager
  • Hometown: East side of Michigan. We moved around every three to four months, so... Sterling Heights, Macomb Township, and Shelby Township.
  • Where you currently live: Downtown Grand Rapids, Heartside neighborhood.
  • Other cities you have lived in: Before moving to the west side of Michigan: Sterling Heights and Macomb and Shelby Townships. After moving to the west side of Michigan, Allendale (GVSU Campus) and Grand Rapids’ Midtown neighborhood.
Why do you call Grand Rapids home now?

I've built a life for myself here.  I moved out to Allendale for school (GVSU), fell in love with the 'small town' city of Grand Rapids, and moved downtown as quickly as I could.  There are so many activities in town that get people outside and encourage the making of new friends. I don't drink much, so bars aren't really my ideal place to meet new people.  But, I love seeing movies in the park, going to Festival of the Arts, wandering in all the businesses and galleries on Division during First Fridays, and listening to amazing street musicians on Monroe Center.  There's never a shortage of things to do, and I love that I can walk out my door, go to any restaurant, coffee shop, or store, and run into at least five friends. I may have lived my adolescence on the east side of Michigan, but I grew up and became my own person in Grand Rapids.  

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?

The community. There are so many people in Grand Rapids that are committed to making it the best place to live. We have amazing nonprofits and volunteers that give every minute they can spare to make someone else's life just a little better. The people who live here care.

Grand Rapids does everything it can to support innovation and provides support for those with an idea to make something new
 to start a new business, to take a leap of faith, and not be afraid of failing. Between Start Garden, Failure Lab, the live/work spaces downtown, and the support of the community who have been where you are now, how can you not take that risk and start out on your own? 

We cultivate growth of everyone who lives here, no matter their standing. Without the community, Grand Rapids is just another town.  With it, it's home.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

Move my friends / family from the east side here!

Doug SmallDoug Small
  • Age: 55
  • Job/Business: President and CEO, Experience GR and the Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Hometown: Napolean, Ohio
  • Where you currently live: Grand Rapids Township
  • Other cities you have lived in: Many! Denver, Syracuse, Palm Springs, Dayton, and several more.
Why do you call Grand Rapids home now?

To be honest, Grand Rapids was not on my radar as a place to live until I was encouraged by friends to consider the job opening in 2008 at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. However, it was nearly love at first sight; when I visited for my interview, I said, “Someone has got to tell this incredible story, and it might as well be me!” My family had the same first impression, and, in fact, when someone asked where I might make my next move to, my wife responded by saying, “I don’t know, but wherever it is, the kids and I will visit him.”  That sums it up quite nicely!

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?

While some may say it is “overplayed or overstated,” the family-first type attitude and atmosphere that exists here was important to us. Beyond that, its connection to the wonderful natural resources that make Michigan stand out, a vibrant downtown core, wonderful neighborhoods, its affordability, locally sourced foods, and, oh, that beer, make it special and perfect for us.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

Like many other avid spectator sports fans, I would love to see a major league team here, though as a realist, I know that won’t happen. Coming from Denver, I not only enjoyed the benefits of eight professional sports franchises, but the branding value it brings to a destination is priceless. Can you imagine Green Bay without the Packers? Nobody would know a thing about that city without their football.  As good as our food scene has become, I would love to see the restaurant entrepreneurs reach a bit more with their offerings. Places like the Purple Pig in Chicago and many of the top restaurants in Austin include items on their menus that just don’t exist here. I would like to think that Grand Rapids has evolved enough with its palates that it would support such offerings. Other than that, it fits and meets every need my family and I have.

Allison RudiAllison Rudi
  • Age: 34 years old
  • Job/Business: Public Research Project Coordinator, Center for Social Research at Calvin College
    Hometown: Born in Nashville, Tennessee but grew up in Winnetka, Illinois.
  • Where you currently live: Eastown
  • Other cities you have lived in: Aix-en-Provence, France; Chicago, Illinois; Nashville, Tennessee; Los Angeles, California (moved to GR four years ago from L.A.).
Why do you call Grand Rapids home now?

While none of my family is originally from Grand Rapids, my brother and mother now live here, so family was a huge draw for my husband and me as we started thinking about having a child in L.A. My husband came to ArtPrize five years ago and spent some time meeting new people in the tech world of GR during that trip, which eventually led to a job for him with designvox in East Grand Rapids as their Chief Technology Officer. We were drawn to the character and positive momentum of this smaller city that had a more authentic vibe than Los Angeles.

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?
 

Grand Rapids has a true sense of community; I love our street and neighbors (Hampton and Robinson in Eastown); people here are intelligent and genuine and truly care when they ask how you’re doing. At least that has been my experience and my husband’s. GR is a city with so many artists and intellectuals, and the breweries aren’t bad either! Michigan as a whole is a stunningly beautiful state, and I'm constantly amazed by the new beautiful lakes we visit. The city of GR is growing rapidly, and it is exciting to be a part of that. I spend a good part of my time working out in the community talking with planners, designers, leaders, and grassroots activists, and I’m constantly amazed by the overwhelming energy behind the change taking place here.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

GR has all the potential to be one of the best cities in the U.S. for everyone to live in. It has so much to give, and I would hope that GR can become a better home to the members of our community who are people of color. There is much work to be done, but the future is bright, and I am proud to call GR my home.

Karen RuisKaren Ruis
  • Age: 66
  • Job/Business: Retired 
  • Hometown: Milaca, Minnesota
  • Where you currently live: Grand Rapids (near the Hall Street Bakery).
  • Other cities you have lived in: Milaca Minnesota; Danbury, Wisconsin.
Why do you call Grand Rapids home now?

I call GR home because I have lived here for 11 years and have invested my time and energy into GR. My husband and I moved here because of family and the opportunity to live in the city. 

Beyond job and family, what does GR have that is important to you?

GR is vastly different from any place else I have ever lived. I  appreciate the diversity in cultures I can experience here. I am invested in a church that provides diversity, community and a place I can serve my community from. 

GR provides parks, recreation, arts (especially ArtPrize),  theater, great food choices, fabulous people, and a huge variety of churches to choose from. 

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

This is not so much for me to feel this is my home, but to make better the place I call home. I would love to see more businesses run and owned by [people of color] and then supported by everyone. I would love to see more of the hard work it takes to bring about racial reconciliation. We need more [people of color] in places of power in our local government. This to me would make our wonderful city even better! 

People who have lived here and move away

Alex FluegelAlex Fluegel 
  • Age: 29 
  • Job/Business: Web Editor, Detroit Metro Times 
  • Hometown: Grand Rapids 
  • Where you currently live: Hamtramck, Detroit
  • Other cities you have lived in: The metro GR area.
Why did you move?

I felt myself becoming stagnant in Grand Rapids. I'd never lived anywhere else (I stayed close to home for college - GVSU) and felt a growing desire to step outside the land of the familiar as I got older. Grand Rapids is a wonderful place for many, but it never felt like quite the right place for me. The seemingly endless self-congratulation paired with the conservative values that still impact many areas of civic life in West Michigan did not align with my politics, and while I applaud the many who are actively making strides in making GR a diverse and truly welcoming community, I felt it was best for me to venture out, if not to find whatever I may be in search of, at least to gain perspective on where I am from and how it's impacted the person I am today. 

Beyond job and family, what does your new city have that is important to you?

History. Part of why I moved to the Detroit area was to learn about an iconic American city and reflect on what it means to be from the Midwest, from Michigan, and how its history ties into my family's history, and in turn, my own. Also, multiple hip-hop/R&B radio stations. That was clutch. 

What would need to happen in Grand Rapids for you to return?

If anything, perhaps time. Grand Rapids is known for being a place that many leave only to return to, and I can't say I won't one day fall into that category, but for now, I'm content with Grand Rapids being the place that I was born and raised, but not where I call home. It provided me with countless opportunities and fostered relationships with people I greatly respect, many who continue to do important and amazing things in the city. It's a place I'm proud to have roots in, as it grounded me enough to feel free to grow. Plus, it's way more fun to visit. 

Ryan SmithRyan Smith
  • Age: 37
  • Job/Business: CEO / co-founder Silicon Valley Coding Academy (former CBO of Hack Reactor in San Francisco)
  • Hometown: Grand Rapids
  • Where you currently live: Seoul, South Korea
  • Other cities you’ve lived in: London, Paris, Traverse City, Los Angeles, San Francisco
Why did you move?

I moved to Seoul at the request of Hack Reactor CEO Tony Phillips (also a Grand Rapids native) to conduct market research as to whether or not South Korea was ready for a coding "boot camp," which is an immersive style of teaching that aims to produce software engineers in a matter of months, as opposed to the traditional four year university route. Hack Reactor is currently the gold standard in curriculum and job placement. After adequate market research, I decided to set up shop and oversee the launch of a new school with this new teaching philosophy. 

Beyond job and family, what does your new city have that is important to you?

South Korea is very unique. Their story of meteoric growth after the Korean War, the strong value they place on education and their investment in both the young people of the country and the health of their people is inspiring. Investment in education and health are two areas I feel very strongly about and I think, relative to other developed countries, we lack in the U.S.

What would need to happen in Grand Rapids for you to return?

Grand Rapids has a lot going for it. It is a progressive city, there is a lot of philanthropy, and they have a healthy start-up community. Based on this alone, I could see myself moving back (also my parents and extended family still live there).

Two areas which trouble me about Grand Rapids, where I think the city is not progressive, are education and medicine. I know, that probably shocks you since so much effort has gone into those two growth areas. However, when I look at GVSU, I now see a veritable resort town and tuition that's 400 percent of what I paid in 2001. When I sit in on the same biomedical classes I took over a decade ago, the material is the same and the quality is the same or worse. It makes me very sad to see that education has iterated in all the wrong areas
 pretty buildings, flashy marketing, etc., and not iterated in ways that define higher education as such  critical thinking, personal growth, innovation, and value.

The other trouble area is medicine. We have some really beautiful hospital buildings, $70,000 Stryker beds, art all over the walls, and prolific marketing, but if you look at our health outcomes, we really fall short. In my opinion, Grand Rapids hasn't invested in the health and education of the people, they've invested in ways to make a lot of money off people, with lofty promises and lackluster returns.


I would return to Grand Rapids in a New York minute if there was the opportunity to work on a progressive project in the aforementioned problem areas. Specifically, something that offers the public an incredibly favorable cost/benefit proposition. 

That's the reason I helped start Hack Reactor in 2012 and why I'm starting Silicon Valley Coding (in Seoul). Hack Reactor isn't just another computer programming course; it's a revolution in education. Students can spend three months and $20,000 and basically be guaranteed a six figure job (98 percent job placement rate with an average salary of $104,000). Compare that to traditional education and between the financial cost and opportunity cost (spending 3.5 years in school instead of drawing a salary), the delta grows to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Megan MiedemaMegan Miedema
  • Age: 32
  • Job/Business: Sales Engineer for Retail Analytics company ShopperTrak
  • Hometown: Georgetown Township, Michigan
  • Where you currently live: I live in the Uptown neighborhood on the northside of Chicago.
  • Other cities you have lived in: Before moving to Chicago, I lived in London, England for one year as a part of a cultural exchange program.
Why did you move?

I graduated from GVSU just as the economic recession was breaking. I had a job waiting tables but finding a career in my field in Grand Rapids was not happening. The job market was terrible in Michigan, and it was booming in Chicago. Additionally, I have always loved big city life and was ready for a change. Chicago was only three hours away and making the move was easy. Within four months of living in the city I had a job and was working on building the career I wanted.

Beyond job and family, what does your new city have that is important to you?

So much! Chicago is an amazing city. People here are so friendly, and there is an adventure around every corner. Chicagoans often complain about how busy our calendars get in the summer, but as we fill them with concerts, neighborhood festivals, baseball games, biking/running along the lake, and time spent at the beach, we know we wouldn't have it any other way. In the winter you can take time to visit museums, join an indoor rec league or catch a hockey game (even if it is the Blackhawks; I'm still a Red Wings fan even after all this time in Chicago).

What would need to happen in Grand Rapids for you to return?

When we visit family in Grand Rapids my fiancee and I often discuss moving to Grand Rapids, but we both know it would never happen. The conversations usually start because we will have a nice meal at a cool new restaurant, and we are amazed at what a great food / brew city Grand Rapids has become and because the cost of living is so low compared to Chicago. However, all it takes is one moment of eavesdropping on nearby conversations to bring us back to reality. Too often we have overheard conversations where locals uses racial slurs  or derogatory terms while talking about minorities.  The west side of Michigan is still a really conservative place and too often we see that mentality expressed in really ugly ways.

Lastly, while Grand Rapids has really made some cultural strides in the 10 years since I have left, it just cannot compare the life that we have built in Chicago. Chicago may have its own set of problems at the moment, but I love the life I have here and will likely be a Chicagoan for the remainder of my days.


Isoke M. KaramokoIsoke M. Karamoko
  • 27
  • Job/Business: Marketing Coordinator for Move, Inc. Professional Software - ListHub Division, CEO of IMK Retailing Group, LLC, Founder and Chief Creative Office of ShopMasani.com, Executive Editor of EmpireLifeMag.com, and Executive Team Member of theunlockedsummit.com
  • Hometown: Detroit, MI
  • Where you currently live: Metro Washington, DC
  • Other cities you have lived in: Allendale, Michigan and Grand Rapids
Why did you move? 

I moved away to pursue post baccalaureate opportunities: career and graduate school. Also, to be closer to my now fiance.
 

Beyond job and family, what does your new city have that is important to you?

Metro Washington DC provides a sought after entrepreneurial and career driven hub for myself. Many of our national non-profit organizations have headquarters here, so the area has been great for networking with like-minded individuals. Also, New York City is a bus ride away; I often visit for eCommerce conferences and sourcing trade shows.

What would need to happen in Grand Rapids for you to return? 

Grand Rapids is blossoming into what I wished it was years ago: a place for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Although it would be a tough sell for my family to relocate to a colder area, I often encourage friends who are entrepreneurs or aspiring business owners and live in nearby cities (Detroit or Chicago) to consider grounding themselves in the area, mainly to take advantage of what's being offered and what's to come in the future for start-up businesses in that area specifically. 

Luckily for me, I was fortunate enough to attend The Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University and participate in their entrepreneurship program, which solidified my journey to success and business ownership, so I will always have Grand Rapids with me and it will always be an integral piece to my story. 

Those who are on the fence about making Grand Rapids home

Breannah R. AlexanderBreannah R. Alexander
  • Age: 26
  • Job/Business: Program Administrator at Partners for a Racism-Free Community
  • Hometown: Saginaw, Michigan
  • Where you currently live: Grand Rapids
  • Other cities you have lived in: Atlanta, Georgia and Lansing, Michigan
Why might you move to a new city?

My interest in living in a different space is primarily driven by career opportunities for the field in which I work and the ability to create and share spaces with people of diverse backgrounds without the burden of intense xenophobic vibes. Additionally, I think about spaces I would want to raise a child, and the intense segregation that maintains this space is something I have no desire to socialize a child in. I would be remiss if I didn't say that this is an issue I am conscious of in every space I occupy, but I have never experienced space that is so intensely defined by segregation and permitted entrance like Grand Rapids.

Beyond job and family, what is lacking in Grand Rapids?

The simple answer is community. Most groups I have observed within the city only act as special interest groups for their defined space, which is unfortunate. There is not a unified sense of responsibility around maintaining spaces that are welcoming to everyone residing in this community. All people do not have a vested interest in every child's development and safety and that’s dangerous. Furthermore, the intense levels of apathy towards individuals experiencing economic strain and immigration challenges is troubling to someone whose knowledge of this space is centered around the intense religious beliefs of this community seemingly always falling short in spaces where that belief means the aforementioned issues should be met with actions out of love.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

When people genuinely start caring about the outcomes of those they share space with, you will see the changes needed to create spaces that include rather than passively excluding.

Eddy Madera
  • Age: 23
  • Job/Business: Consultant at Cerner Corporation
  • Hometown: Grand Rapids
  • Currently live: Kansas City, Missouri
  • Other cities I have lived: East Lansing, Michigan
Why might you move to a new city? (*Eddy had been on the fence but just recently moved.)

Grand Rapids is very special, and the choice to move wasn’t because I was dissatisfied or didn’t have a reason to stay. But, to me, it’s all about the adventures we accumulate through life. Moving to a new city has a lot to do with stepping outside of your comfort zone and whether your goals align with the decision to move is a big one. I personally enjoy the challenge of adjusting to new situations and environments. Plus, new people and opportunities that come with moving to new city allow so much room for personal and professional growth that will undoubtedly benefit you for the road ahead.

Beyond job and family, what is lacking in Grand Rapids?

In my opinion, Grand Rapids has everything I would look for in a city, although, the size may be the only thing it lacks. Excitement, entertainment and fast-paced lifestyles are usually sought after in bigger cities. Grand Rapids has all of that but it’s just not as intense and therefore people seeking to move away may feel that their goals can be achieved in a bigger place with more connections and opportunity.

Is there anything else that needs to be done to make Grand Rapids home?

Grand Rapids could use more traffic. The bigger it gets, the more excitement and entertainment we will see along with business growth and opportunity. People want jobs and with those jobs they want long-term growth. Downtown has been moving with force in that direction, and it isn’t long before everyone will want to call Grand Rapids home.

'Everyone will want to call Grand Rapids home'

As those Rapid Growth interviewed explain, "home" is something huge. It gets into identity and culture and race and belonging and questions of who we as humans really are. Who we want to be, and who we have been. While we may not always be able to describe, exactly, what home is, we can pin down, to a certain degree, why people come and go
— and stay. But we can only do that through listening to others, and then acting to make our city better. So, let's get to know our neighbors. Let's raise a glass of that Grand Rapids-brewed beer to our community, to what we can become. 

Let's become a place where everyone feels at home.
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