A Grand Welcome: Local organizations partner to connect area newcomers to GR's diverse community

Relocating to a new city is a big deal; and whether one is a recent graduate or a seasoned professional, connecting with the right people and resources in an unfamiliar city can be challenging. To ease the transition, on November 20 Grand Rapids is rolling out the red carpet for its newest residents. For the third year, convention and visitor bureau Experience Grand Rapids has partnered with local organizations to welcome area newcomers and connect them to the city’s diverse professional community.

Grand Welcome is an annual reception for newcomers designed to ease the transition into the community by providing space to make the connections needed to build a local network. As the official destination marketing organization for Kent County, the bureau’s job is to promote the area as welcoming and inclusive for visitors and those who call it home.

“This reception is different because we planned it with the newcomer in mind – with the opportunity for them to make Grand Rapids their home and feel like they belong here,” says the event’s organizer, Angela Nelson, vice president of multicultural business development at Experience Grand Rapids. “We have invited a number of community leaders and resources for them to connect and network with. So, at the end of the day, we want them to really feel connected in a way that they can live, work, and play — and become integrated with the Grand Rapids community.”

The reception is made possible through organizations such as The Right Place, whose initiatives include the retention, expansion, and creation of quality employment in the West Michigan region.

“Attracting and retaining talent has been one of the top issues on the business community’s mind for several years now. We know that we will have to attract talent to our region to fill the future demand for jobs — and we want to ensure that people who move here, stay here,” says Andria Romkema, vice president of marketing and communications at The Right Place. “A key component in whether or not someone chooses to stay — is if they feel they belong or not. A Grand Welcome gives a newcomer space to form deeper connections and roots within the community.”

When asked what The Right Place most wants newcomers and those considering relocating to the area to know, Romkema replies,

“West Michigan is a highly collaborative region and our business and community leaders have set in motion an unprecedented level of growth and investment. This has created not only a strong economy, but also an exceptionally high quality of life.” She adds, “Grand Rapids is also a community where you can be actively engaged and create impact. There are numerous opportunities for people of all experience levels to contribute to the community through non-profit board leadership and you will be able to see the results of your involvement.”

Why this event matters

The reception is designed for newcomers who have relocated to Grand Rapids in the last two years. It is for community connectors made up of individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses, and community organizations that offer valuable resources for a person new to the area. Last year’s attendance included leaders from organizations like the Urban League of West Michigan, whose mission is to provide the means to empower African Americans and other minorities to achieve economic self-reliance.

“The Grand Welcome reception means a lot to me for a number of reasons, said Urban League president, Joe Jones during the event’s inaugural reception. “One, I think it is critically important that people of color are able to be in a space in which they see people that look like them — other professionals; because what that does, it helps to really reinforce the fact that Grand Rapids and West Michigan can indeed be home for them.”

The reception will also celebrate the success of rising community leaders such as recently elected public officials and individuals who have been promoted to a position of vice president or higher since January 1, 2019. While it is a social event, a Grand Welcome’s attendees will have the opportunity to meet people who can make a difference in their life — while also enjoying beverages, hors d’oeuvres, door prizes, and other fun surprises.

Photos courtesy Experience Grand Rapids.
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