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Designing the future of Grand Rapids: The Creative Class not the Working Class

April 19, 2010

Blake Krueger, President & CEO of Wolverine World Wide, was the keynote speaker at today’s Econ Club luncheon in downtown Grand Rapids. His presentation was a brief summary of a new “design initiative” involving Wolverine, Meijer, Steelcase and Amway.

The project is called GRiD70 and was presented as a way to have local corporations “collaborate, provide more economic growth opportunities for downtown Grand Rapids and attract and retain young professional talent.”

The Grand Rapids Press was so impressed with this idea that they ran a front-page top story on the corporate plan this past Saturday. The online pro-growth, pro-business blog Rapid Growth Media also ran a favorable piece as well.

Wolverine CEO Blake Krueger kept saying that Grand Rapids needed to attract the “creative class,” which seemed to be a euphemism for young professionals. Krueger stated that this young talent would be attracted by a vibrant urban environment with entertainment venues that are walkable.

At this point Krueger showed the audience a short video consisting of two parts. This first part was a brief interview with Carol Coletta, President of CEOs for Cities. Coletta was in Grand Rapids a year and a half ago to address the Business Policy Summit, which was advocating for a better tax climate for Michigan businesses and a right to work state policy.

The head of CEOs for Cities said in the video that she was impressed with the urban initiatives that Grand Rapids has already begun and cited the success of last year’s ArtPrize and the newly proposed “urban farmers market.” It was interesting that she mentioned the market idea, since this was a produced video and the market idea was only announced a few weeks ago.

In addition to the hype around this corporate collaboration there will be a Masters degree program offered through the Illinois Institute of Technology. This business program is called a Master of Design Methods program to help students not just design products but to better understand how consumers use these products.

The project begins next week and staff from the four companies mentioned earlier will be renting space in a Rockford Construction owned property in downtown Grand Rapids.

None of the media coverage we have seen so far has asked any serious questions about what kind of economic development this “design initiative” would look like and who would be the beneficiaries. There has also been no discussion about the contrast of wanting to bring young professionals to the area, when there are thousands of unemployed workers. Does this mean that these companies are only interested in the “creative class” and not the working class?

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