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Grand Rapids and its superstar status: Praising economic growth while ignoring poverty and the wealth gap

August 7, 2019

Apparently Grand Rapids is continuing to win praise for it’s economic growth. Last week, WGVU radio did a story about how Reuters and Business Facilities Magazine have both identified Grand Rapids as one of “the best midsized cities for economic growth.”

The Reuters article doesn’t discuss Grand Rapids, they just include Grand Rapids in a map reflecting showing cities where there has been new job growth. 

The Business Facilities Magazine does provide more details about Grand Rapids, in an article published on July 24.  The article talks a bit about all the new manufacturing jobs in Grand Rapids and identifies a few companies where there is job growth:

Recent manufacturing projects in the Grand Rapids region include a $10 million capital investment by Bissell Inc. that will create 100 new jobs, a $140 million capital investment by Dicastal North America that will create 300 new jobs and a $29 million capital investment from Plasan Carbon Composites expected to generate more than 600 new jobs.

It is interesting that Bissell is mentioned with new job creation, although the article fails to mention that Bissell Inc. outsourced some 300 jobs after NAFTA was implemented in 1994. The article also fails to mention that Plasan Carbon Composites is an Israeli weapons manufacturing company, thus celebrating 600 new jobs for an Israeli military contractor is hardly cause for celebration or “superstar” status. The Business Facilities Magazine article also doesn’t mention that lots of public subsidies have gone to Plasan from the State of Michigan. 

Lastly, it is worth noting that the only local source cited in the WGVU radio piece was Birgit Klohs, President of The Right Place Inc, which is an entity that recruits businesses to come to West Michigan and it’s Board of Directors is made up of members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

What is missing from the WGVU Radio Story?

There may very well be new jobs created in Grand Rapids, but none of the news sources cited talked about what kind of jobs have been created or are yet to come in Grand Rapids. Are these full-time jobs that will pay a living wage or are they jobs that one could not afford to pay the rental fees in this city? Speaking of rental costs, this too is omitted from the story, along with the amount of gentrification taking place, which has also displaced whole areas across the city.

These stories about Grand Rapids, which are quickly celebrated by city officials, always leave out critical and crucial information about this city.

  • Based on a 2016 report, Grand Rapids had the largest Wealth Gap in Michigan. 
  • One out of every 4.5 residents in Grand Rapids Lives in Poverty, which is about 22.5% of the city’s population. The poverty level increases when we talk about the black community, which has 32.1% living in poverty and 36.5% for the latinx community. 
  • According to a new report from the University of Michigan, some of the worst areas in Michigan, when looking through an environmental justice lens, are in Grand Rapids, specifically in latinx and black neighborhoods. 

Grand Rapids will no doubt continue to receive high praise from the business press when talking about economic growth. However, it is always important to ask the question, cui bono, who benefits from this economic growth and who continues to suffer within this neoliberal capitalist framework.

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