Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell’s latest State of the City Address is terrific. Worth reading. It lays out an agenda for making Grand Rapids a place where people from across the planet want to live and work. Its an agenda that other Michigan cities should want to adopt as their own. And the state too.
Heartwell begins his agenda with Champion of Diversity. With an emphasis on friendly to immigrants. He says: “Immigration is crucial to our economy and immigration is a bedrock principle of our American life. We have always been a people who throw our arms wide in welcome.”
Then talent. He says: “Talent comes in all shapes and forms and colors and ethnicities. It is home grown and it finds its way here from someplace else. It is the young entrepreneur and the seasoned research scientist; the designer, the architect, the programmer, the doctor, the professor. In a knowledge economy such as ours talent is wealth. The cities that retain and attract talent are winning; the others are losing. … Talent today is measured in post-secondary degree attainment. We must do better.” (Emphasis added.)
Exactly! His formula: better schools from early childhood on and, because talent is increasingly mobile, retaining talent after they graduate from college. He recognizes that the provision of quality basic services and amenities are crucial to retaining and attracting residents. Specifically he speaks of the importance of parks; roads; transit (including considering street cars!); biking and walking friendly and street lighting.
On all these issues the city is hindered by state policy. The Mayor emphasized the Legislature’s unwillingness to increase transportation funding. Which matters a lot, but so does a decade or more of revenue sharing and education (particularly higher education) cuts. And an ambivalence, at best, about being welcoming to all (including, but not limited to, immigrants).
We need state, regional and city policy across the state that starts with as the Mayor puts it: “In a knowledge economy such as ours talent is wealth.” That is the starting point of constructing an agenda that will put Michigan back on the path to prosperity. Because unless we increase the education level of those who choose to live and work here we are going to be one of America’s poorest states.