Insights on the City of Friendly People: A candid conversation with Mayor Sims

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Located just 10 minutes from the shore of Lake Michigan is the City of Friendly People, better known as Muskegon Heights. Home to over 10 thousand residents, the once manufacturing city is now filled with hundreds of businesses large and small in varying industries. In response to the input of its residents, Muskegon Heights’ current Master Plan is focused on issues related to bolstering community pride and neighborhood health. The current initiatives include: diversifying and strengthening housing stock, neighborhood beautification, and improving economic development.

Seeking to overcome limited resources, negative perceptions, and a declining population, the Master Plan states the City has identified four goals to assist with economic development – “expand current businesses in the City, attract new businesses to the City, educate the youth to become the next generation of skilled employees, [and] assist businesses with training funds.” If successful, it “will foster a business friendly climate that will create career opportunities [for] citizens and attract new residents with business opportunities.”

Elected in 2015 and currently pursuing her second term as mayor, Kimberley D. Sims’ roots within the community are clear. Having called Muskegon Heights home for her entire life, in addition to serving as mayor, Sims is now a local business owner as well. She shares her insights on what she’s seen within the community and her hopes for its future.

Rapid Growth: Why is Muskegon Heights special to you?

Kimberley D. Sims: Muskegon Heights has always been home for me. This community has provided the foundation of who I have come to be. Being part of this community has given me a lens through which to see the greater community. The people here and the connections to one another, the night and day contrast, yet the core of familiarity.

RG: What changes have you seen within the community since you became mayor, specifically related to small businesses and entrepreneurship?

KS: The City has begun to get its buzz back. The community is gaining its voice and slowly becoming more engaged in its own progress. Small businesses are coming to the surface and expressing [a desire] to grow, and becoming more established in the community. Programs are seeing this value here, and [are] bringing much-needed resources into the community to assist.

RG: What collaborations are taking place with local organizations or other cities that are positively impacting business owners?

KS: The Muskegon Innovation Hub bringing [Start Garden’s] 5x5 to Muskegon Heights!

RG: What initiatives have you been involved with to help strengthen the business community?

KS: The establishment of the Muskegon Heights Business Association. [I helped] create a space for Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) to come into the community on a regular basis.

[I’m currently] working with a group to help chronicle the businesses which were located in Muskegon Heights in the last 50 years and celebrate them in a way to give exposure to the vibrancy of the once established business culture and to bring light to the potential for other business possibilities.

RG: You are also a business owner yourself. Tell us a little bit about mahali.

KS: It came from a realization that the community [needed] a space to commune and share thoughts. mahali provides space for people from different walks of life to cross paths in a judgement-free environment – degree holders, non-degree holders, black, white, young, and old.

RG: What resources would you encourage local business owners to leverage to help them be successful?

KS: I would recommend GROW and SCORE.

RG: As you look forward, what do you hope to see within the community?

KS: This is a community overlooked by many, yet holds the answer to so many of the questions asked in this greater region. If one could take a minute to slow down and actually engage with the community, they just might learn something. Looking forward, I am hoping to see small businesses being established and become successful, storefronts in the core downtown being filled, [and] community members continuing to become engaged and empowered about the redevelopment of their community.

Building Bridges is a series focused on the diverse entrepreneurial community within the West Michigan region. Throughout the year, the series will highlight the unique problem solvers and change makers who seek to positively impact the growth of the economy and local ecosystem. Building Bridges is supported by Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).

About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 14 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management, and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.

Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]!

Photos by Chantal Pasag of Pasagraphy.
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