Grand Rapids, named for the river running through it, hopes to restore the rapids that inspired its name while righting inequities within the region’s business community. On July 7, the City set sail an initiative to engage micro-local business enterprises (MLBE) in hundreds of thousands of dollars of upcoming river restoration contracts. City of Grand Rapids equity analyst, Ciarra Adkins and business developer Alvin Hills IV, have high hopes for lowering barriers to the area’s small minority-owned businesses.
“The river restoration project is really a catalyst, especially post-COVID. It’s an opportunity to ensure equity in the development along our river’s edge,” Adkins says. “Typically, development is just a building that gets tenants. The river restoration is different because the river runs through our downtown and separates so many sides of our City. Instead of a separation, we see this development as a way of coming together.”
While the City of Grand Rapids 2020 budget includes some funding for the river restoration project, Grand Rapids White Water (GRWW) is also raising funds through a public fundraising campaign that is targeting a variety of public, private, and government sources.
“We want to make sure we come together with many local minority contractors and keep that wealth in the City and to create jobs,” says Hills. “The river restoration project will be extremely extensive. We want to keep those dollars as local as possible so our region will be in better shape.”Alvin Hills IV
MLBEs are small businesses verified to have revenue and employee numbers 25% or less than Small Business Administration small business standards and with a net worth of $250,000 or less. These businesses often face barriers to bidding on projects as extensive as the river restoration. The City initiative will help remove barriers in these three ways: One, application documents will be available in Spanish. Two, the City will pay up to $500 to help MLBEs cover the cost of professional preparation of net worth statements, a costly and complicated process. And, three, the registration program will last several months so smaller businesses have more time to prepare.
“This is a project that will have generational impact,” Adkins says. “Kent County and Grand Rapids have so many different cultures, traditions, and histories on the use of the water. We’re also thinking about the ADA. We want to make all these improvements so all people can get to the water, making sure it is accessible for everyone.”
To extend its reach to small minority-owned businesses, the City is contracting with Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, West Michigan Asian American Association, and West Michigan Minority Contractors Association for referrals.
“We know they have the expertise and social capital,” Hills says. “Based upon the MLBEs completing applications, MLBEs referred give them the opportunity to earn up to $15,000 per contract [referral bonus].”
As the river restoration approaches its final stages, the City will call upon the indigenous community to create and deliver narratives to guide how the river’s history will be told through the project.
Adkins concludes, “As part of our River for All project, we wanted to make sure that not only will the river be an equitable place for all to access and enjoy, but that its construction and restoration and the development along its banks were equitable as well.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids