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Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce members see Skilled Labor and Low Cost Labor among the top concerns for 2018

February 20, 2018

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, which just celebrated 130 years as an organization, asked its members to take a survey to determine the top obstacles to business growth in Grand Rapids. Here is the list, along with the percentage of members who ranked these obstacles. 

Labor issues dominate the list of obstacles for the Grand Rapids business community, which comes at no surprise, since businesses rely on the labor of workers in order for them to make profits.

Availability of low cost labor underscores the business communities need to take advantage of people by only paying them minimum wage or less, as in the case of those who work for tips. The business community always needs cheap labor for doing the hard work of cleaning hotel rooms, washing dishes, waiting/busing tables and taking care of people that the dominant culture sees as disposable members of society – the elderly and those with disabilities.

However, what dominates the list for the GR Chamber members is the availability of skilled labor and then the retention of talent, which are both inter-connected. The business class is willing to pay more for people who have certain skills sets, but they also want those people who they deem as “talent,” to stay in the area, so that their skills and talent can be accessed. Within a capitalist economy, whether you are in the category of skilled labor or low cost labor, you are still vulnerable to the whims of the business class.

Talent Retention

Here is what the Grand Rapids Business Journal wrote about the GR Chamber member survey on January 19: 

Andy Johnston, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, said the chamber is working to advance legislation to close the talent gap.

Some of this legislation includes flexibility to the Michigan Merit Curriculum that would allow students to pursue skilled trades, as well as legislation to help students exit high school with some documentation of their skills.

“We’re going to continue to support the collaboration between the business community and the education community so there’s an understanding of what jobs are out there and what skills are needed,” Johnston said.

What is important about this excerpt from the article is the point about the relationship between the business community and the education community. The business community has always played a significant role in influencing educational institutions. At the university level, the business class makes sizable donations, which the public often sees as a rich person’s name on a building. However, financial contributions from the business class to universities and colleges always comes with strings attached, whether it is influencing the curriculum to be favorable to business interests or to get education administrations to put pressure on dissident educators and student groups, as is well documented in Henry Heller’s recent book The Capitalist University: The Transformations of Higher Education in the United States, 1945-2016. We also document this dynamic at GVSU in our document, What’s in a Name: A Popular Guide to Wealth and Influence at GVSU

In addition, the business class works to lobby and influence state legislators and get them to pass laws that are beneficial to their long-term interests. We can see this dynamic at work in an upcoming Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce event entitled, Solutions Summit.

The March 23 event is for the business class and how they can influence K-12 education, is being held at New Vintage Place, just around the corner from NexTech High School, both of which are on the westside of town. 

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the Center for Michigan, which is hosting forums across the state, to set and amplify a substantive, nonpartisan, issue-driven tone for the 2018 statewide elections.

Beyond the Chamber of Commerce, another organization that seeks to influence education in West Michigan is the group called Talent 2025. Their mission is:

Talent 2025 is a catalyst working to ensure an ongoing supply of world-class talent for West Michigan. Composed of over 100 CEOs from the region, Talent 2025 illuminates gaps, evaluates leading practices, and advocates for the implementation of those leading practices to make West Michigan a top 20 employment region by the year 2025.

To be clear, Talent 2025 is not interested in making West Michigan a top 20 education region by the year 2025, but a top 20 employment region. This is made painfully clear by looking at the list of 100 CEOs who make up the group, which essentially is a list of the West Michigan power structure. 

Talent 2025 is made up of a eleven working groups, all with a focus on education that benefits future labor needs of the business class.

One addition group that we all should pay attention to is the group Believe 2 Become. Believe 2 Become has been a DeVos funded project within the Grand Rapids Public Schools, which also seeks to influence public education locally to mold students for the interests of the business class.

Last year, Believe 2 Become published a report entitled, Workforce Opportunity in West Michigan:Connecting a Qualified Workforce to High-Growth Opportunities, which demonstrates that the local power structure sees students primarily as workers they can make money off of.

The contemporary business community uses terms like talent management and workforce development, but these are essentially modern terms for what 19th century writers would refer to as wage slaves.

Look at these comments from Business Leaders and you can see how they view students:

For those who value education in liberatory education, we need to pay attention to the business class and how they want to influence both higher education and K-12 school systems. We also need to resist the business class and their desire to see students as nothing more than profit making talent.

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