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G-Sync: Making a new list

In 1997 Apple asked us to "Think Different" and it became one of their most discussed ad campaigns. Publisher and Lifestyle Editor Tommy Allen looks to the economic fabric of our city and wonders what we will have in the near future if we "build different" now.
A few weeks ago another magazine ranked Grand Rapids number three out of 373 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the U.S. for places where economic and workforce advancements were not only creating opportunities (i.e. jobs) but also nurturing a climate for sustainable economic development to occur. The article highlights the “Leading Locations” by addressing four key categories: a prime work force, real economic strength, stats of year-over-year growth, and “recession-busting” attributes -- all critical areas for a business to consider when looking to relocate or expand their organization. 
It turns out, Grand Rapids has the right stuff for what the study calls the "holistic strategy of economic development" to flourish here. With a history of skills in the areas of advanced manufacturing, life sciences, agribusiness, aerospace and defense, and information technology, our region, according to the study, joins the ranks of the top ten whose elite membership includes major metropolitan areas, eight of which are based in America's West.
Though it's good news, some areas of our community are not feeling this bump in the charts. But rather than sit back and wait for goodness to fall from the tree, there are plenty of local organizations who are already seeking new ways to create their own prosperity, often on their own terms. With a keen sense of how competition works, if we hope to rise on this (or any) list, we will need to work smarter and this month I want to list a few organizations attempting to close the gaps.  
Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) was founded by Grand Rapids resident Jamiel Robinson, who could see the leakage in our African American neighborhoods after years of investment had failed to produce the lasting change folks had hoped to see. Robinson formed GRABB in 2013 as a for-profit organization committed to empowering local businesses to operate beyond the "shop local" model and fire up a new one that builds bridges via the networking offerings of GRABB's events.
In addition to forming opportunities for new networking streams to emerge, in 2014 Robinson launched the (before black Friday) Black Market; the 30 Days 30 Dollars challenge (inspired by Maggie Anderson's book "Our Black Year"); and the annual networking membership meeting, Sankofa Mixer & Business Showcase, held this year on July 30 at the Richard App Gallery.
"There is $1.5 trillion buying power within the Black American community but only 2 percent of it is staying within our community," says Robinson. "We hope that GRABB will advance our goal to migrate to 10 percent (from the 2 percent), which will translate into more money being infused back into our community-based businesses."
Robinson believes that honest patronage built on quality of services is how we begin to make the change happen for African American businesses. It is not through a pity-purchase. Charity acts do not improve quality by nature and this is why Robinson is working to associate GRABB's membership brands with a new standard.
In 2015 a new collaborative platform of more than 60 areas organizations launched under the umbrella of Emerge West Michigan. It was designed to serve the entrepreneur as well as strengthen the economic opportunities of our region's start-up businesses. Now EmergeWM is reaching out to untapped entrepreneurial markets, thanks to a partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of West Michigan, under the new leadership of Jorge Gonzales.
Each month from June through December, the organization is presenting MedioDía (noontime), an Infórmate y Actívate series of business educational workshops covering a wide array of topics and taking place at various venues around the city.
Instead of being hosted in English, like most events in our city, MedioDía is geared towards the Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs and business owners of our region and is conducted in Spanish, thus adding a layer of comfort and accessibility to the sessions for their members.
Using the familiar lunch-and-learn platform that GR Current and Emerge West Michigan have been employing in our community, MedioDía introduces a new model of engagement committed to accelerating our local Hispanic businesses.

Each session includes a break-out from the workshop for the modeling of the information presented so that when attendees leave they all have an idea of how to apply this knowledge to their businesses.  
"It is a fine example of how we can come together to grow area businesses, maintain our identity but also strengthen the region through the contributions of our diversity," says Gonzales, who is partnered to produce collective impact with collaborators Emerge West Michigan, GR Current, Fifth Third Bank, LINC, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), SpringGR, and the Hispanic Center of West Michigan.
The first MedioDia in June was so popular that it attracted people from Lansing to attend. The second event will take place at the Hispanic Center of West Michigan.
The Greater Grand Rapids Chamber of Grand Rapids has launched two exciting new programs over the last year devoted to creating a new way for area businesses to connect to community. Building off their mission that many voices are better than one when seeking to create impact, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce last year launched OutPro (a LGBT business networking platform) and then just last month, Black Women Connect.
These new programs are a nice addition to the Chamber's many platforms that seek to elevate our area's minority populations, inviting area businesses as well as professionals to come together to build new connections within the business community.
As Chamber President Rick Baker talked about the runaway success of the recently launched Black Woman Connect, he conveyed the excitement of this new group's focus on the African American businesswoman, one of whom remarked she had been waiting her whole life for such a program for Black women to emerge in our region.
"With OutPro it became very clear that in order for our region to attract and retain the talent we're going to need here to advance," says Baker, "we need to have groups that provide connections for the diverse groups that make up a modern Grand Rapids."
Both of these groups build upon the traditional Chamber mission to provide a place where businesses come together to lift up their members' voices and create impact on our region.
When a businesses or individuals seeking to relocate look to move to a region, they seek out what is visible. For groups like OutPro and Black Women Connect, simply being out and visible makes a big difference as Rapid Growth has learned over the years from people who chose to make this place their home partly because they saw others who looked like them. 
Magazine articles and rankings aside, we have done a great job of advancing our region, but if we want to press forward, then we need to take steps to become more inclusive, to bring other along on this economic journey -- and it has to begin now. 
Bing GoeiWhen I was asked recently by Bing Goei of Eastern Floral (and the Governor's Office of New Americans) what I thought about all the changes we were seeing, I reflected for a second. Bing, like me, has witnessed much change and just as many false starts. And yet, we both agreed that if it is going to happen (and we think it is going to happen here) then we need to be adopting new ways of looking at the work before us.

We need to think differently about how we approach diversity and that means looking at how we have conducted business in the past. Instead of asking to be included and have the dominant culture change as a result, we both agreed that maybe the thing our future economy needs is a willingness to form new and more vibrant business cultures.
If we are to evolve to become a community where economic opportunity is accessible to everyone, it spells the death of the old as a new birth of the next generation of Grand Rapids takes hold. In many ways, this is the natural order that has brought us to where we are today: near the top of a list in a magazine, with a ways to go before that success can be shared by our entire community.

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Publisher and Lifestyle Editor

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