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To address racism in hiring, poverty & more, Grand Rapids launches Racial Equity Initiative

Grand Rapidians often hear their city’s stories of success: the beer industry that’s bringing in tourists from around the country, the manufacturing sector that’s making a comeback, the almost endless string of accolades naming Grand Rapids as one of the best places to raise a family, buy a house, and more.

 

But there are other stories that aren’t as often heard, even though they’re being told: those of the city’s residents living in poverty. Those of the people struggling to find work. Those of the families who can no longer afford the rent for the home in which they’ve lived for years, or decades.

 

More than a quarter of Grand Rapids’ population -- 26 percent -- lives at or below the federal poverty level (about $24,000 for a family of four), and that number climbs even higher in communities of color, according to statistics from the U.S. Census. About 45 percent of the 42,000 African Americans residing in the city live in poverty. The unemployment rate climbs to about 53 percent in predominantly black neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Approximately 35 percent of Hispanic residents are living in poverty and are facing a 27 percent unemployment rate.

 

The staggering unemployment and poverty rates for people of color has led to Grand Rapids being ranked as one of the worst cities for African Americans in the entire country. While the median income for white individuals in the city is about $77,000 per year, it is $22,000 for black residents. Of the nearly 16,000 businesses in Kent County, just 5 percent are owned by individuals who are black, according to the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses.

 

“Grand Rapids continues to be a tale of two cities, where neighborhoods in 17 census tracks -- home to roughly a third of our city’s population -- have 48 percent of their residents living in poverty,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said during her State of the City address last month. “These neighborhoods are more racially and ethnically diverse than the city as a whole. These neighborhoods are economically unstable with low median household incomes and high unemployment.”

 

To address racism and racial disparities in the city, Bliss and the city officially launched the “Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative,” which the mayor announced during her State of the City and which has landed $300,000 in support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF).

 

The city announced this week that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will provide a three-year, $300,000 grant for the initiative that aims to increase job creation and employment and create an action plan for racial equity in the city. The program will focus on the 17 census tracks cited by Bliss during her March speech. These communities are identified by WKKF as “neighborhoods of focus,” or areas that are facing higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the rest of the city. The neighborhoods included in these census tracts include Madison Square, Baxter, Garfield Park, Roosevelt Park, the South East Community, and Heartside, among others.

 

“The initiative will convene stakeholders to create specific action steps that increase equitable employment and reduce racial disparities in the city, create a digital Racial Equity Dashboard for community transparency and accountability, and identify ways for community stakeholders to work together form community-wide impact,” the city says in a press release issued this week.

 

With this initiative, Bliss said the city will “work hard to strengthen our partnerships” with such organizations as the NAACP, Urban League, Hispanic Chamber, Greater Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network, The Right Place, The Source, WMCAT, GROW, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the West Michigan Small Business Development Center, and others.

 

The WKKF funding will cover the costs of hiring a facilitator for the initiative and hiring an “evaluation and data partner to track and publish program outcomes,” according to the city. Additionally, it will cover the costs associated with trainings, strategic planning sessions, community roundtables, and other public outreach.

 

“The Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative will strengthen our efforts to eliminate racial disparities in our city,” Bliss said in a press release. “We know that without racial equity we cannot be prosperous as a community.”

 

Dr. Bill Pink, the vice president and dean for workforce development at Grand Rapids Community College who will take over as the school’s president on May 1, will serve as the co-chair of the initiative with Bliss.

 

“This effort is something that’s been a growing initiative from the mayor’s office and the city of Grand Rapids wanting to make sure, from the city’s perspective, we’re doing all we can to promote racial equity in our city,” Pink said in an interview with Rapid Growth.

 

The soon-to-be president of GRCC said the data that stems from the initiative will not only help to inform the city on matters of racial equity (including, for example, how racism prevents people from being employed), but it will help the college as well.

 

“Some of our students are in these neighborhoods, and this gives us more information so we can make more informed decisions,” said Pink, who has long done equity work, including chairing a national conference on the future of African-American education in the U.S. and conducting equity and diversity training for teachers and organizations. “This will give us more data for us to find out more about our community… This is the work that will inform us enough that we can make lasting change.”

 

Part of that lasting change will stem from some honest and difficult conversations about racism and racial bias in the Grand Rapids community, including dialogue about policing after five unarmed African American boys were stopped at gunpoint by police last month.

 

“Anything in terms of what we see in Grand Rapids that we want to address will be on the table,” Pink said in regards to community conversations about police bias. WKKF noted that racial equity work not only strengthens communities but makes policing more effective.

 

“Police forces that reflect the diversity of their communities can improve communications and foster cultural understandings that lead to both safer neighborhoods and stronger police-community relationships,” WKKF wrote. “There is more opportunity for trust and transparency when the community sees a police force that includes members of their community.”

 

While the WKKF grant will last for three years, this work must be at the forefront of city policy -- and continued by residents throughout Grand Rapids, officials said.

 

“It’s not just a task force or initiative that drives changes; people drive change,” Pink said. “The folks who are a part of this great city are the people who will be the main players in this.”


“This is all of our work; this is how we take care of each other,” Pink continued. “This is how we take care of our city. It’s ambitious for us, and it’s a positive move. But it won’t mean a thing if we as a whole can’t grab a hold of this.”

Human trafficking in West Michigan: How Ferris State University is fighting modern-day slavery

Human trafficking is a deeply rooted problem that’s growing in Kent County, and throughout Michigan, according to human rights advocates. As an increasing number of people are forced into modern day slavery, leaders across Michigan, a state that has more trafficking victims than almost anywhere else in the country, are determined to combat this epidemic.

The Ferris State University Coalition Against Slavery and the Professional Convention Management Association Student Organization are holding a two-day public “Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness” from April 5 to April 6 at the FSU University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan.

FSU conference attendees are welcome to register for one or both days and will learn more about trafficking, signs of exploitation, root causes, the trauma experienced by a person who has been exploited, and tips for keeping family and friends safe through cyber security.

Day one will be held on Wednesday, April 5 in the University Center Ballroom from 7:00pm-9:30pm. It will include a presentation given by Jason Otting and the Women in Cyber Security Student Organization titled “Fighting for the Silenced: How Cyber Security Can Curb Human Trafficking.” The evening will conclude with a screening of “The Long Night” by Tim Matsui and Media Storm Productions.

Day two will be held on Thursday, April 6 in the University Center from 9am to 4pm. For a small fee ($15 for students; $30 for non-students), registrants will attend breakout sessions, enjoy a catered lunch and participate in a panel discussion with guest speakers, including Carmen Kucinich, FBI Victim Specialist; Nikeidra Battle-Debarge, Wedgewood’s Manasseh Project Coordinator; and Jane White, Chair of the Michigan State Human Trafficking Task Force.

Human trafficking: A growing problem

The FSU conference comes at a time when there has been a nationwide push to address human trafficking. In the last weeks of his final term, former U.S. President Barack Obama declared January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline’s website defines trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.”

Human trafficking continues to be a growing problem in Michigan. In 2016, 246 human trafficking cases were reported in Michigan alone, The National Human Trafficking Hotline saw a 37.5 percent increase in calls in 2016. Of those 246 cases, 191 were sex trafficking cases, 30 were labor trafficking, eight were sex and labor, and 17 were not specified. The majority of the victims, 216 individuals, were female, and 29 were male, according to Polaris, an organization that works to eradicate human trafficking.

While 246 cases were reported in Michigan last year, advocates say the actual number of trafficking victims is far higher. It’s difficult to gauge how many people are being trafficked in the region, but Women at Risk International, a Wyoming, Michigan-based nonprofit that’s working to eliminate human trafficking, reports there could be as many as 2,400 minors who are currently trafficking victims in West Michigan -- and that number doesn’t take into account the women and men forced into slavery. People of all ages are subjected to the horrors of trafficking, though the U.S. Department of Justice states that the average age of a victim of sex trafficking in the country is 13, with 12 being the average for a boy and 14 for a girl.

Trafficking touches all corners of Michigan, and the group Hope Against Trafficking notes Michigan was ranked as the second highest state for the number of sex trafficking victims in 2015.

“Over the last decade, criminal dockets have detailed tragic accounts of children sold for sex at truck stops, servants held in captivity and forced to clean for free, and women forced to enter the sex industry and provide profit for their traffickers,” Michigan’s Human Trafficking Commission states in a 2013 report. “From urban centers like Detroit and Grand Rapids to rural communities in the state’s Upper Peninsula, reports of trafficking have made headlines. Cases like these vividly illustrate the need for a comprehensive response to this crime.”

While Michigan has strengthened its laws regarding human trafficking in recent years, communities such as Kent County is facing a growing problem, according to the Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force, which first convened in March 2015.

“Like others, our community possesses characteristics that can be easily exploited by traffickers in what is, at its core, a highly lucrative commercial enterprise,” the task force writes, citing West Michigan’s agribusiness sector as a draw for labor traffickers and truck stops and rest areas dotting well-traveled highways as “attractive places for sex traffickers to sell their victims.”

“Our local hospitality industry has grown as our region becomes an increasingly popular location for large-scale events and national conventions,” the task force writes. “Hotels — filled with guests frequently coming and going and often unfamiliar to hotel staff — provide convenient, temporary cover for traffickers looking to service sex workers.”

Additionally, the task force notes that “the socio-economic conditions that can make people vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking in the first place are widespread in our community.”

“The economic growth Kent County has experienced in recent years remains stubbornly out of reach for thousands,” the group writes. “One in six people in our community lives in poverty. With few economic options, adults and children alike are often coerced into dangerous situations to simply put food on the table and a roof over their heads.”

How you can help

As an everyday citizen, there’s much you can do to help fight human trafficking, from lending a hand financially to just keeping an eye out for signs that someone may be a victim.
 
  • There are numerous signs that may show someone is being forced to have sex or work against their will, a list of which you can see here and here.
  • If you are a victim, or you think you know someone who is, call the Kent County Human Trafficking hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 616-726-7777.
  • You can also call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
  • There are numerous groups in West Michigan that support human trafficking victims, many of which accept donations and/or volunteers. You can see a list here.
  • Increase awareness by talking to your friends neighbors about trafficking, donate items that trafficking victims and their children need, and more. See the numerous ways to help at the Wyoming, Michigan-based Women at Risk International.

The Conference on Human Trafficking Awareness will be held April 5 and 6 at Ferris State University’s University Center, located at 805 Campus Drive in Big Rapids, Michigan. Pre-registration is required and will close Monday, April 3 at 11:59pm.

Additional reporting by Anna Gustafson

Smashing glass ceilings: The women running Grand Rapids

March 8 is International Women’s Day, and the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington have called for a “Day Without a Woman” to coincide with an international women’s strike. This united effort is meant to recognize “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system -- while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job security,” as the Women’s March website states.

“We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting,” the website goes on to say. “We believe in gender justice.”

Similar to the Day Without Immigrants and the Women’s March, the event is a chance to stand up for those in our society who have been, and continue to be, marginalized and oppressed. As part of the event, individuals can participate by: women taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor and all people supporting small, women- and minority-owned businesses.

“Let’s raise our voices together again to say that women’s rights are human rights, regardless fo a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age, or disability,” the organizers write.

The women of our city are indispensable, and without them our very functioning would jolt to an immediate full stop. Let us take the time to recognize and honor the amazing women of our city.

Just a few of the remarkable women that work tirelessly to run our city government include: Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly, Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear, Economic Development Director Kara Wood, Planning Director Suzanne Schulz, Managing Director of Administration Services Mari Beth Jelks, 311 Custom Service Manager Becky Jo Glover, City Clerk Darlene O’Neal, and City Attorney Anita Hitchcock.

Below are more brilliant women who are not always in the spotlight but help shape, run and push our city forward every day. This list, of course, could go on almost endlessly, and we’d love to hear from you about the women who aren’t on here in the comments below.

Adriane JohnsonChief
Creative Director at Rebellious Creative, Membership Director at AIGA West Michigan

Andrea Napierkowski
Owner of Curly Host, Founder/Host at Doc Night

Anel Guel
Community Engagement Organizer at the City of Grand Rapids

Breannah R. Alexander
Director of Strategic Programs at Partners for a Racism Free Community

Denavvia Mojet
Board Member of Equity PAC

Heather Duffy
Exhibitions Curator at Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, Founding President of Throwbactivists

Kelsey Perdue
Program Manager at Grand Circus, Co-Chair of Equity PAC

Keyuana Rosemond
FitKids360 Program Coordinator at Health Net of West Michigan, Board Member of Equity Drinks

Kiran Sood Patel
Managing Editor of The Rapidian

LaTarro Taylor
Community Relations Coordinator at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

Lis Bokt
Executive Director of The Geek Group National Science Institute

Lisa Ann Cockrel
Director at Festival of Faith & Writing, Managing Director at Calvin Center for Faith & Writing.

Lorena Aguayo-Marquez
Adult Education at Grand Rapids Community College

Lydia VanHoven
Creative Team Leader at Meijer, Adjunct Professor at Kendall College of Art and Design, Co-founder of Grand Rapids Feminist Film Festival

Michelle Jokish-Polo
On The Ground Editor at Rapid Growth Media

Milinda Ysasi-Castanon
Executive Director of The Source, Cofounder at The Latina Network of West Michigan

Rebeca Velazquez-Publes
Director of Programs at Health Net of West Michigan, Board Member of Equity Drinks, Cofounder at The Latina Network of West Michigan

Samantha Przybylski
Welcome + Inclusion Specialist at HQ

Shorouq Almallah
Director of Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Steffanie Rosalez
Program Director at Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities - Cook Arts Center

With women still earning on average 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, there is still much work to be done -- even if the gender pay gap has shrunk over the decades. Grand Rapids can count itself lucky to be the home so many talented women.

Let's continue to recognize, honor and work harder for all the women in our lives who have given so much, been denied more, and have been compensated even less. The time is now.

Ken Miguel-Cipriano is Rapid Growth’s innovation and jobs editor. To reach Ken, you can email ken.miguel.cipriano@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


First Lady Michelle Obama presents WMCAT with national award

There is big news.

There is REALLY BIG news.

And there is this.

First Lady Michelle Obama invited the 12 winners of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award to the White House on November 15th to recognize their programs’ effectiveness in developing young people’s learning and life skills by engaging them in the arts or humanities.

One of the winners, one of only 12 in the country, is Grand Rapids’ own West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT). 

The award recognizes the country’s best after-school and out-of-school creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. The 12 awardees—chosen from a pool of more than 251 nominations and 50 finalists—were also recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills, and cultural awareness.

Representing WMCAT at the event  was 17-year-old WMCAT alumnus  Keloni Seawood-Walton.

Daniel Williams, executive director at WMCAT, says that Seawood-Walton was the perfect choice to represent WMCAT. “She embodies the work we do at WMCAT,” he sais. “She attended all four years while in high school and completed the labs. She then stayed with us and also apprenticed at Ambrose.” 

Seawood-Walton became a part of WMCAT while attending Grand Rapids Montessori School and graduated in spring 2016. She now is working part time as an apprentice at WMCAT’s Ambrose Print Shop while attending Grand Rapids Community College.

Williams says this recognition is reflective of the entire WMCAT community: staff, instructors, mentors, students and supporters and will impact organizations throughout the country by showcasing the opportunities that exist to invest in creative youth development programs. “This expands our ability to share the work we are doing,” he says. “It takes our program to the national stage and showcases what is going in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

This recognition is built on years of hard work. Since 2005 the WMCAT Teen Arts + Tech Program has engaged more than 2,000 high school students in studio experiences in fine arts, technology and design. The impact is illustrated through 95 percent of WMCAT teen students graduating high school on time and 85 percent being accepted to college. This past year, 90 percent of teen students said WMCAT makes them believe they can be successful in college and career.
 
The Teen Arts + Tech Program at WMCAT is grounded in design thinking and project-based learning. In partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, WMCAT has empowered teens through learning studios, such as photography, ceramics, and leadership by design. WMCAT encourages teens to elevate their voice and affect social change by applying their skills learned in the programs. Now in its 11th year of programming, WMCAT has helped more than 2,000 teens to achieve both academic and personal success. 

The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities initiatives that celebrate the creativity of the United States’ young people, particularly those from underserved communities. This award recognizes and supports excellence in programs that open new pathways to learning, self discovery, and achievement. Each year, the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards recognize 12 outstanding programs in the United States, from a wide range of urban and rural settings.

Recipients receive a $10,000 grant and the opportunity to visit the White House and accept the award from First Lady Michelle Obama. Awardees also receive a full year of capacity-building and communications support, designed to make their organizations stronger. In addition, 38 exceptional youth-focused arts and humanities programs across the United States receive a Finalist Certificate of Excellence.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 

How the business community is unlocking the potential of The Port of Muskegon

The Port of Muskegon is West Michigan’s largest, natural deepwater port, and according to a recent economic impact report, with proper development, marketing and promotion,  it has the potential to create 1,700 jobs and more than $280 million in annual economic activity that reaches throughout West Michigan.

That was the gist of Port Day, an event organized and hosted by the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (WMSRDC),  the Muskegon County Port Advisory Committee and the West Michigan Prosperity Alliance (WMPA) with the intention to introduce the port’s potential to local and regional stakeholders and build a collaborative network in order to advance the vision of the port becoming a multi-modal regional logistics hub and capturing the economic value forecasted in the report.

“There are a lot of moving parts” before this vision can become a reality, says WMSRDC Executive Director Erin Kuhn, but she is very optimistic that the port has the potential to be a significant economic engine for West Michigan. “The greater community does not realize the assets around Muskegon Lake and the port,” Kuhn says. “We have access to shipping, an airport, rail and the highways.  And the commercial capacities are often underutilized.”

Kuhn notes the recent interest in the Port of Muskegon is directly related to the closing of the Consumers Energy plant in Muskegon. In order to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to dredge the channel, the tonnage of coal that was shipped for use by Consumers Energy would be need to be replaced. To address this, the local business community came together and began asking questions: How do they diversify? How do they overcome this issue?

The answer quickly became evident: cooperation. Diversifying the use of the port would require the coordination of the private sector and local, regional, state, and federal governments.

When the WMPA (an organization that was formed in January 2014 as part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Regional Prosperity Initiative) issued a call for projects in October 2014, a proposal was created by local leaders, and the  Port of Muskegon was selected as the number one regional project.

With this recognition, the project was moved from a local level to a regional one, and The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission took a lead role in securing state and federal grants and is developing a plan to advance the port as a regional logistics hub.

For more information about this initiative please visit http://wmsrdc.org/port-day.

The West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission is a planning and development agency serving 120 local governments from Lake, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana Counties. The Commission works to foster regional development in West Michigan through various services and programs.
 
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

There's gold in them thar landfills: How Kent County is changing its stance on trash

Kent County has big plans for its trash.
 
The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (WMSBF) recently released the Economic Impact Potential and Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste report, which spelled out how much money this area could save if it changed the way it deals with trash. (See Rapid Growth’s story here.)

And while there isn’t actual gold in our landfills, the $56 million in potential economic value that is thrown away each year should be an incentive for entrepreneurs, businesses and government to find innovative ways to change the way solid waste is managed.

Using the report as a catalyst, the Kent County Department of Public Works (DPW) announced strategic goals to reduce waste going to a landfill by 20 percent by 2020 and by 90 percent by 2030. The aggressive 20x’20 and 90x’30 Vision is similar to waste reduction goals set by New York City, Phoenix, Austin, and San Francisco.

Dar Baas, the director of Kent County Department of Public Works, discusses in an interview with Rapid Growth specific steps to better manage waste, the challenges to move forward and the need to reset perceptions about trash.

RG: What are the immediate next steps you will be taking to reach your 2020 goal? 
 
DB: Our focus is threefold. First, improve collection and processing of discarded materials in the business and residential sectors, where existing collection and processing infrastructure already exists, including bottle deposit containers, corrugated cardboard, all types of scrap metal, paper and plastic. Second, construction and demolition debris generated by new and remodel commercial and residential construction (improving the collection of this debris). Third, provide a robust composting network to divert food waste and other organic materials that have nutrient value and could be used as a soil amendment.
 
RG: What are the biggest challenges you face as you move forward, and what are you doing to overcome these challenges?
 
DB: Our biggest challenges are that we’re lacking a consistent message and we’re trying to change habits.

A consistent message for residential and public space recycling is critical to reduce confusion about what is accepted. This is lacking on a national level so we decided to start locally since recycling is a very localized system.

As for our habits, diverting food waste and organics in order to use this material for composting should be straightforward, but we’re conditioned to throw everything in the trash so most of us don’t make the effort. Or, more specifically, our system hasn’t trained us to make the effort. We need to change the system and then change the behavior. Having viable infrastructure and services developed to collect material will also be necessary, and finding cost effective ways to offer these alternatives will be required.
 
RG: What are the most innovative and successful programs being used in other communities (similar in size to Grand Rapids) to increase recycling efforts?  Would these work here? 
 
DB: Kent County has always been a leader in technology and infrastructure to manage discarded materials. For 25 years we’ve had two significant facilities, Kent County’s Waste to Energy Facility and Kent County’s Recycling Center, that are helping West Michigan to reduce landfilled waste. What we’re working on now is an expansion of that, but it’s interesting to compare our challenges to other communities (of any size). Almost universally, these four things rise to the top of most community waste reduction strategies: education and outreach campaigns to increase the quantity and quality of recyclables; providing cost-effective organics collection and processing; establishing programs and services for the business sector to reduce waste; and developing infrastructure to process construction and demolition waste.

As it turns out, our waste challenges and the resulting strategies to solve them are very similar to those of San Diego, Fort Collins, Santa Monica, Albuquerque, Maryland, Oberlin (Ohio), Boulder, San Jose, Austin, and even Scotland! Naturally, everyone’s approach is just a little different (policy changes vs. pure education) depending on their community dynamics.
 
RG: How do you envision the private sector's role in reaching these goals?
 
DB: The private sector will be important in several ways. A number of West Michigan companies have been leading the efforts to become more sustainable and desire to have zero waste to landfill policies that are driving the larger effort locally; we need to share their successes and the steps they took to successfully implement change. All companies, particularly smaller organizations, need to be open to change on how they manage their discards, and the first step is taking a look at their trash. This could be an internal assessment or through a formal waste audit to determine what they really are throwing away as trash and what they can to do to divert some, or all, of it. Waste haulers will need to diversify collection habits to deliver material to processing facilities. Private investment in waste conversion and processing technologies will also be part of the mix.    

RG: If you could change one misperception about trash, what would that be?
 
DB: The trash can is not the end of the line. We need to start looking at trash as “end of life” material with value that shouldn’t simply be thrown away, destined for the landfill. All of this material has previously been harvested, mined or extracted as a natural resource and should be placed back into a value stream where possible. Both the WMSBF study and our boots on the ground work at the transfer station and landfill supports that there are significant volumes of readily recyclable and compostable material including corrugated cardboard, metals of all types, paper, plastics and organic materials that can be collected separately and sent to facilities to prepare this material as a commodity to be used as a feedstock for manufacturing or agriculture or energy.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Building respect: Grand Rapids launches bicycle safety campaign to curb crashes, grow awareness

It’s no secret that motorists and bicyclists don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to navigating the streets of Grand Rapids.

Individuals have aired frustrations over how to interact with the 80 miles of new bike lanes introduced in the city since 2010, others are unaware of the bicycle ordinances, and people are fed up with bad behavior displayed by both motorists and bicyclists, according to research commissioned by the city in 2015.

Still, that same research reports residents believe that drivers and bicyclists can share the road together in harmony — something that is particularly needed in a city with the second highest fatal bike crash ratio in Michigan.

But, how, exactly can this happen?

City and state officials hope much of the answer lies in a bicycle safety education campaign, Driving Change, they unrolled Monday at City Hall.

“Our number one goal is that Grand Rapids is a safe place for everyone,” whether you are a bicyclist, driver, skateboarder, or pedestrian, Bliss said at Monday’s campaign launch.

A multi-tiered education plan that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is funding to the tune of $632,000, Driving Change culminates local officials’ year-long effort to better understand the reasons behind the high rate of crashes involving vehicles and bicycles. The campaign will feature television ads (which can also be seen here), billboards, radio commercials, and social media and other digital ads that aim to educate drivers and cyclists about safe behavior on the roads.

“We know we need to build respect between cyclists and motorists,” Bliss said.


Additionally, the city will be handing out 1,000 free bike lights on a first-come, first-served basis. The lights will be given out at various community events, and individuals can pick them up at the Development Center at 1120 Monroe.

The initiative will promote a series of key rules, including:
 
  • Motorists passing a bicycle must leave at least five feet between the right side of their vehicle and a bicyclist, a standard that was passed by the City Commission in 2015 and went into effect this year.
 
  • Bicyclists must make sure they’re visible on the road and use a forward white light and rear reflector, or white light, when riding at night.
 
  • Motorists need to watch out for their cyclist colleagues, particularly when making a right-hand turn.
 
  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic signals and signs.
 
  • Bicyclists should stick to the roads, not the sidewalks. Additionally, there are places where cycling on the sidewalk is prohibited, including downtown Grand Rapids.

Police noted during Monday’s event that the goal will not be to issue citations against drivers or cyclists who violate the bicycle-related ordinances, unless officers believe them to be necessary. Instead, law enforcement and more than 60 community partners, including the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, will focus on distributing the educational materials.

“Grand Rapids will be a model for cities in Michigan and beyond,” said Grand Rapids Bicycle Police Officer Eric Gizzi, who was joined at Monday’s event launch by police officials from throughout Kent County, including East Grand Rapids and Walker.

Grand Rapids is the first city in Michigan that MDOT is working with on an initiative like this, and Josh DeBruyn, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at MDOT, noted that the decision to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars in support stemmed from the fact that the city has one of the worst bicycle-related crash rates in the state. Between 2008 and 2014, the most recent data available, Kalamazoo had the highest fatal bicycle crash ratio, Grand Rapids had the second highest, and Detroit and Lansing came in at the third highest. In Grand Rapids, there were 71 bicycle-involved crashes in 2014, 85 in 2013 and 93 in 2012. Of these crashes, there was one fatality in 2013 and another fatality in 2012.

De Bruyn also noted that Grand Rapids has a large, and growing, bicycle culture, making it that much more important that a sustainable truce between drivers and bicyclists occurs. An MDOT-commissioned study shows the annual economic and health benefits for Grand Rapids associated with bicycling total approximately $39.1 million each year, including $8.3 million on the purchase of bicycling-related items, $2.6 million in manufacturing, $13.5 million in avoided health care costs, $10.3 million in reduced absenteeism (i.e. people are able to make it to work), and $4.3 million in event and tourism spending.

Plus, the community has the largest bicycle industry presence in the state, and bicycling is a crucial element of the city’s larger commitment to sustainability in the city, Grand Rapids City Planner Suzanne Schulz said.

“Our Driving Change campaign fits with the city’s placemaking strategies and aligns with the vision of Grand Rapids business and civic leaders who understand bicycling can serve as a tool to help attract and retain talent in an ever-increasing competitive employee recruitment landscape," Schulz said.

For more information, you can visit the Driving Change website and Facebook page.

Photos by Tommy Allen, logos courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids.

Local nonprofit lands military medical product contract, adds jobs

Thanks to a three-year contract with the U.S. Army and a partnership with Israeli medical supplier PerSys Medical, Holland-based nonprofit Kandu will be creating 30-40 new jobs for individuals who many times are considered "unemployable."

According to Tom Vreeman, CEO at Kandu, this new book of business has been years in the works, but is fully aligned with their business model as a medical device contract manufacturing facility. "It took about three years to get this contract. I was at a special forces medical trade show that the Department of Defense puts on when I met PerSys, who was looking for a U.S. manufacturer for their high-performance bandages."

Vreeman says their organization invested in creating a clean room manufacturing facility, which is essential to compete for medical device businesses, after years of servicing the automotive and furniture industry. The bandage assembly business is their second contract for U.S. Military medical products.

The Kandu business model provides both employment opportunities and training for individuals that have been considered "unemployable," primarily as the result of disabilities.  

To learn about Kandu, you can visit their website here.

Source: Tom Vreeman, Kandu
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

JetCo Solutions taps networks to hire

JetCo Solutions' recent job search was profiled in Rapid Growth Media here.  Eschewing the usual channels to identify and interview candidates, the local firm took the road less traveled and filled two out of the three positions.

"We've never done a traditional job search," says VP Sue Tellier. "We added one full-time person, a  proposal manager and technical writer. We were very fortunate to connect with him through the community."

Tellier, a Detroit native, continues to explain how their firm filled this position. "West Michigan is surprisingly close-knit. Once we pushed this out in social media and general networking, we were able to get connected and make the hire."

JetCo also filled a part-time position for a research person in the same way, and continues to look for an account manager, which they hope to find before the end of the year. "The skillset we are looking for includes being able to quickly understand government procurement and have over-the-top customer service skills," says Tellier.

For anyone in the job market today, Tellier also offers this advice: "Learn to network effectively. It is not about the number of connections, but more what you do with the connections you have."

To learn more about JetCo Solutions, you can visit their site here.

Source: Sue Tellier, JetCo Solutions
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

JetCo Solutions' growth means new sales, technical writing jobs for Grand Rapids

JetCo Solutions says its proactive and reactive processes for helping clients sell to the government has put the company on a growth track. That, in turn, means finding people to fill three new job positions the company just opened.

JetCo Solutions helps clients find government contracts for their product or service, works through the bidding process with them, helps them manage the proposal and follows up after submitting the proposals, says VP Sue Tellier.

"The capabilities are quite specific," says Tellier. Tellier's husband, Jon Tellier, founded the company in 2006. "We spent a lot of time trying to find the person with the perfect background, the perfect skills. But we've found that what we prefer is someone with the raw skills, someone who is not rigid, that we can train."

Tellier says the company will bring on a technical writer in the next two months. JetCo is also looking for two account managers to be "the main face" of the organization. And while experience is preferred, it's not a requirement.

The company is open to hiring a recent college graduate who has a degree in technical writing, says Tellier. And though she'd like to hire sales managers with procurement experience, she says that if someone understands how the federal budget works and how agencies spend money, they can teach the procurement piece.

JetCo Solutions has a diverse clientele, says Tellier, and does not take on clients who could compete with each other. Clients include companies from a number of industries, including healthcare staffing, a flooring contractor, defense contractors, air quality services and a lighting manufacturer.

For more information on JetCo Solutions, click here.

Source: Sue Tellier, JetCo Solutions; Kim Bode, 834 Design & Marketing
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids City Clerk looks to hire an estimated 300 election workers

With local and statewide elections scheduled for May 8 and August 7, and the presidential election on November 6, Grand Rapids City Clerk Lauri S. Parks says she's looking for 200 to 300 people to work at the polls.

Some 500 election workers are already on the books, Parks says, and not all existing and new workers will be needed in May and August. But at least 200 new workers will be needed in November to accommodate a greater voter turnout for the presidential bid.

"An applicant must be a registered voter in Kent County and they have to be available to work on election day," Parks says. "They also have to come to mandatory training prior to working, and indicate whether they are a republican or democrat, because when we place the workers we have to have political balance at the precincts."

This year, a few polling precincts will have electronic poll books, so Parks says the city is looking for some of the applicants to have experience operating computers. Over the next couple of years, the city will transition all polling locations to e-poll books.

Parks says she always has more workers available than are needed because she needs to fill in for workers who have family obligations, vacations or illness. Others only want to work certain elections.

The election day workday begins at 6 a.m. and ends sometime after the polls close at 8 p.m. and the closing work is complete. Workers get breaks for lunch and supper, and earn $125 per day.

"It's a wonderful experience; people really enjoy it," Parks says. "They're always surprised at how detailed everything is that goes into the election and how many checks and balances are already in place."

To apply, pick up an application at the City Clerk's Office, 300 Monroe Ave. NW, 2nd floor (City Hall) or click here.

Source: Lauri S. Parks, Grand Rapids City Clerk
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids taking the lead in pedestrian and cycling friendly streets

The City of Grand Rapids adopted a "Complete Streets" resolution at a recent meeting. This resolution provides a commitment by city planners and engineers to use a more holistic approach on all future transportation projects by taking into account not only the needs of motorized vehicles, also but pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs and public transit.

This resolution was greeted enthusiastically by Tom Tilma, executive director of the Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition. "We are thrilled with the commitment of the mayor, city commission and the work of the planners and engineers. The city of Grand Rapids is being a leader by adopting the resolution."

Tilma explains that "designing a complete street will encourage more walking, cycling and transit use and will promote a more active community with more vibrant retail districts."  He also is believes that these type of initiatives will make the city more attractive to "millennials and knowledge workers" who embrace a more active lifestyle.

The first tangible result of this resolutions will be the pilot program of "slimming down" Division Ave. this summer. "I think people are going to surprised on how well it will works," says Tilma, who also indicates that even if changes are not permanent on Division Ave., the city is committed to this process in targeting neighborhoods throughout the city.

The Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition is a grassroots organization that is dedicated to transform metro Grand Rapids into a safer cycling community. To learn more about this organization, including an upcoming conference on cycling, you can visit their website here.

Source: Tim Tilma, Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor

Youth program blasts off with $350,000 grant

"It's a win-win scenario," Lynn Heemstra, Executive Director Our Community's Children (OCC) enthusiastically proclaims when asked out the $350,000 grant provided to the organization from U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

Heemstra explains that with the grant dollars, OCC will be coordinating the Leadership and Employment, Achievement and Direction (LEAD) program, a "really cool initiative" that offers relevant work experience for 90 Grand Rapids city residents, ages 15-21, by partnering with a broad spectrum of businesses throughout the city.   

These businesses, part of the Mayor's 50 program, will provide employment mentorship and a learning experience. The LEAD program then focuses on an educational experience by learning about neighborhood economies, entrepreneurship and leadership. The program also complements the cities two-year youth master plan, which is focused on preparing a more skilled and creative workforce.

Heemstra strongly encourages city-based businesses to apply for the Mayor's 50 program, saying, "This is a wonderful opportunity to invest in the next generation of workers by offering a positive work experience."

For information on the Mayor's 50 program, visit their website here.

To learn more about the LEAD program and for application instruction, you can visit the site here.

Source:  Lynn Heemstra, Our Community's Children
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs Editor


Local collaboration leads to local innovation

John Rumery

The City of Grand Rapids
and Local First recently announced their collaborative program, MyGRCity Points. The innovative and free program rewards customers who use the city's Single Stream Recycling Program and volunteer in the community. Points earned can be redeemed at local businesses for discounts on products and services.

"This is the first time Local First has partnered with the city of Grand Rapids," says Elissa Sangalli Hillary, executive director of Local First.   
While working on the details of this program behind the scenes for several months, national organization CEOs for Cities learned of the program and wanted to get involved.  CEOs for Cities is a non-profit organization that works with urban leaders to "catalyze the advancement of the next generation of great American cities." With CEOs for Cities' support, this program has the opportunity to be recognized on a national level.  This, in turn, then can elevate Grand Rapids' profile as an innovative leader in community engagement.

According to Sangalli Hillary, many of the Local First members are "excited by the support the city is showing to locally owned businesses." Besides the positive benefits of recycling and volunteerism, this program has the potential to increase visibility and foot traffic for locally-owned businesses in the various neighborhoods throughout the city.

Blending technology and incentives, the program is fairly simple to understand and administrate. Within the next few months, customers will be able to go online and register for a free MyGRCity Points account.  Once registered, participants can start earning points by participating in wide variety of activities such as using the single stream recycling program, helping to organize community events and volunteering for a wide variety of activities, which will be identified through the website. Individuals then can redeem points at participating local businesses for discounts on products and services. The entire program will be administered online.

The program is scheduled to roll out in three phases, beginning with the recycling program.   The goal is to be fully implemented by the end of 2011. For more information you can visit the website.

Source: Interview with Elissa Sangalli Hillary, City of Grand Rapids Media Release and CEOs for Cities website.

John Rumery is the Innovation and Jobs Editor for Rapid Growth Media. He is an educator, board member of AimWest, WYCE music programmer, entrepreneur, raconteur and competitive barbecuer living in Grand Rapids, MI.  He can be reached at InnovationandJobs@RapidGrowthMedia.com


 For story tips you can e-mail info@rapidgrowthmedia.com

Local agent launches website to help simplify the understanding of health care reform

John Rumery

For Rodney Vellinga, launching Health Car Reform Simplified was a simple solution for a complex problem.  As a licensed health insurance professional, he has followed the rollout of the Health Care Reform Bill that began its phased implementation January 1 of 2010.  His conclusion; what this bill means to individuals and small businesses is very confusing to understand.  

Vellinga states that the bill, which will be rolled out in phases through January 1, 2014, is not only "very complex" but also "people are very busy and it is hard to get a handle on what is going on".    He states that even among professionals in that industry, the future implications of this program are mostly speculative.

To help solve this problem Vellinga initially started a LinkedIn group focused on the health care bill.  He then launched his website that features information and free webinars on Friday afternoons which will address various health care related issues such as the impact this bill will have on individual policy holders.  "You can read about health care reform but it more understandably if it is discussed through a dialogue in simple language".  

Vellinga points to the recent introduction of the Michigan High Risk Insurance Pool which goes into effect in October as an example of a program that is probably better understood through a discussion rather than through a reading of the official program details.  

Vellinga makes it clear that this forum and his webinars will be apolitical.   It is not intended to discuss the pros and cons of the bill, but will be a practical discussion of the laws.  He views his target markets as being the self-insured, H.R. professionals, small business owners, especially those without a human resources department, and other health insurance agents.    

Vellinga is cautiously optimistic about his new site. There should be no lack of interest in this type information.  Many reports have the uninsured in Michigan of being around 1.2 million people with projections that it will continue to grow.   But learning about the impact of a government program still requires effort and in the case of his site, individuals will need to devote time on a Friday afternoon to engage in the discussion.

John Rumery is the Innovation and Jobs Editor for Rapid Growth Media. He is an educator, board member of AimWest, WYCE music programmer, entrepreneur, raconteur and competitive barbecuer living in Grand Rapids, MI.  He can be reached at InnovationandJobs@RapidGrowthMedia.com

 For story tips you can e-mail info@rapidgrowthmedia.com
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