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Fortune magazine paints glowing picture of Grand Rapids…..for some

May 12, 2010

Today, CNN Money and Fortune Magazine posted an article entitled, “A Michigan Success Story,” which features Grand Rapids. The article juxtaposes the struggling city of Detroit with Grand Rapids, a city they say is reinventing itself.

The article states that there is a tremendous amount of development happening in downtown Grand Rapids, not the kind of view you expect these days in downtrodden Michigan.” The story mentions the arena, the convention center, the entertainment district and the “crown jewel” – the medical mile.

The writer of the article says that the reason for the change in Grand Rapids is the corporate, philanthropic and political leadership in this community. This is an expected conclusion coming from a magazine devoted to unbridled capitalism. The rest of the article is a recounting of this revitalization from the perspective of the local capitalist class.

Those sourced in the article is a Who’s Who of local wealth and political influence. Birgit Klohs from The Right Place is cited first, followed by former bank executive and Van Andel confidant John Canepa. From there on the list of those mentioned are David Van Andel, Dick DeVos, and David Frey, the founders of Grand Action.

Grand Action is the organization in which DeVos and company use to push their own development projects with public & private dollars, but generally portrayed as providing leadership that benefits the whole community. Other local business leaders are mentioned as well, such as Fred Meijer, Pete Seechia, Bill Gillette and Bob Pew.

The result of all this corporate good will is that Grand Rapids is a success with a “more stable economy.” However, the article does mention at the very end that there are still problems. “Unemployment is still high. Michigan’s manufacturing decline, which has emptied thousands of square feet of factory space in the city, has disproportionately hit minorities.” Once they got that obligatory statement out of the way the writer went right back to gloating over the success of Grand Rapids.

The folks at Fortune/CNN Money failed to mention the high levels of poverty. In fact, the Brookings Institute found that 24.7% of the population in Grand Rapids is living in poverty, one of the highest percentages for cities in the US. The article also failed to mention that the City of Grand Rapids is in the midst of one of a major budget crisis, where taxes were just raised and now the city will consider charging people a fee for street lights use.

The reason why this information was not included in the story is simple – they didn’t talk to working class people, the unemployed and the underemployed. Had the Fortune writer bothered to walk just south of downtown Grand Rapids you see a different picture and its residents would tell you that they are dealing with absentee landlords, home foreclosure and limited access to good food, health care and education.

There is no doubt that there is a great deal of development happening in Grand Rapids, but the important question to ask is who are the beneficiaries of this development? So when Fortune/CNN Money says Grand Rapids is a success story, they should add the qualifying point……for some.

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