Who knew the City of Grand Rapids is giving taxpayers money to a DeVos-owned business?
We recently discovered that the City of Grand Rapids signed a contract with SG Ecosystem Inc, one of the DeVos-owned entities, in April of 2016.
In the Memorandum of Understanding, the City of Grand Rapids states it gave the DeVos-owned business entity $362,500 on April 1, 2016 and will will give an additional $181,250 on October 1, 2016 and another $181,250 on January 1, 2017. This means that by March of 2017, the City of Grand Rapids will have given $725,000 of taxpayer money to the DeVos-owned entity known as SG Ecosystem Inc.
SG Ecosystem Inc. is an outgrowth of Start Garden, created by Rick DeVos in 2012 as a venture capital funding source for those seeking to start new businesses. Start Garden has evolved, however, with a for-profit fund called Wakestream, the Start Garden Foundation (formerly known as eMerge West Michigan) and SG Ecosystem Inc., which has the contract with the Grand Rapids Smart Zone, run by the city of Grand Rapids.
According to a Start Garden Media Release, they have been working on this project of diverting public money with GVSU and the Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority. Mike Morin, CEO of the new Start Garden Ecosystem, said in the same Media Release, “Start Garden has taken risks on people who want to take risks, and our region has benefitted from it. As the needs and demands of entrepreneurs change, we are adapting the ecosystem’s traditional public and private structures.” Which is just another way of saying, they wanted to divert public money to the private sector.
“We created eMerge to be the non-profit, go-to resource for early-stage entrepreneurship support in West Michigan, and its programming has brought new visibility and awareness to the needs of entrepreneurs within the ecosystem. By combining our forces with Start Garden, we can further realize our efforts that will create a stronger talent system for West Michigan.” This statement is from Mike Jandernoa, chair of eMerge West Michigan, member of Talent 2025’s CEO Leadership Council and a part of the Grand Rapids power structure.
This Media Release from Start Garden was sent out by Brian Burch, who has also been the PR guy for ArtPrize (another skilled mechanism for diverting public money to the private sector) and a Holland City Council member who voted against including LGBTQ people in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
Many of those who sit on the board of the Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Authority Board are people who have a strong interest in promoting neoliberal capitalism and the diversion of public money into private coffers. Some of these board members are with the Right Place Inc, the Van Andel Institute, the Michigan Small Business Development Center (run by the GVSU Seidman School of Business) and the CEO of the GRAM.
None of this is surprising, however. In fact, it is celebrated as good financial sense even amongst progressives. This is a direct result of economic austerity measures, meant to weaken the state and make it more submissive to the private sector. Reduce public services, privatize public services and divert funds from the public to the private because it is more “efficient.” Those are some of the defining elements of what makes up Neoliberal Capitalism. In this case, brought to you by the DeVos Family.