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GR Chamber Policy Conference promotes economic benefits for downtown Grand Rapids at the expense of the rest of us

August 17, 2022

On Tuesday, MLive posted an article with the headline, Housing, ‘transformational projects’ discussed at Grand Rapids Policy Conference.

The Policy Conference in question was hosted and organized by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. For those who are familiar with GRIID, we consider the GR Chamber as part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, since it primarily represents prominent members of the local Capitalist Class and the people who do their bidding. 

This Policy Conference is exactly what you would expect from the GR Chamber of Commerce, with speakers being primarily from the business community. The topics that were covered, as listed by the MLive article were, followed by GRIID comments/analysis in italics: 

  • Helping to increase the ease of doing business downtown and throughout our neighborhoods to support a vibrant economic ecosystem.For me this just translates into how businesses can be more profitable at the expense of the public, which means more public funds get directed to the private sector. Neoliberal Capitalism at its finest.
  • Bringing together business, philanthropy, civic/nonprofit, and government to accelerate economic inclusion. – Centers of power that use terms like inclusion should raise red flags for all of us. They want to have a few Black and Brown faces benefit from their efforts, thinking this will demonstrate some sort of commitment to racial, gender, class inclusion, but they have no plan to alter what they have always been committed to……making more money for themselves. You won’t hear the GR Chamber of Commerce ever talk about reparations, paying people a living wage or giving back land to the local Indigenous tribes.
  • Fostering community support for transformational projects and the most effective use of ARPA dollars.By transformational projects, based on who was speaking about these at the Policy Conference, they mean the DeVos-led outdoor amphitheater project. For a more detailed response to the so-called Transformational Projects in GR, go to this link
  • Working with all stakeholders to promote the safe, vibrant environment everyone in our community deserves as well as supporting businesspeople speaking up on public safety issues.This is a directly related to the GR Chamber of Commerce letter that was sent to the City of Grand Rapids complaining about unhoused people and instances of recent gun violence in the downtown area. Their primarily concern is make sure that customers feel safe to spend their money in downtown GR. Here is an article we wrote about that Chamber letter to the City
  • Building a coalition of community members that support increased housing supply at all price points and engagement with local elected officials. – For those who have worked on housing issues who are not part of the real estate industry or the development sector, this is such a bullshit statement. We need a coalition of people who are not part of the GR Power Structure and made up primarily of individuals and families that have been priced out of the housing market in GR to demand and fight for more truly affordable housing. 

The MLive article only cites two sources in the article, a GR Chamber spokesperson and Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss. They do mention one of the presenters, which was a senior fellow and the director of the AEI Housing Center at the American Enterprise Institute. The American Enterprise Institute is a Right Wing Think Tank, based in Washington, DC.

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce website has more information on who the presenters were, which provides us with some clarity on the kinds of policy suggestions and proposals that were being made. Beside the American Enterprise Institute person and Mayor Bliss, the other speakers were Dr. Paul Isely, Associate Dean from the Seidman College of Business; Tom Welch, & Carol Van Andel, the Co-Chairs of Grand Action 2.0; and Diane Yentel from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Not surprising, but everyone except for the last person listed is directly a part of or connected to institutions that are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

It would have been interesting to hear from Diane Yentel with the National Low Income Housing Coalition, since that organization has done some really good housing justice work. I wonder if it was mentioned that based on the research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in order for people to afford rent in Grand Rapids, they would have to make $20.02 and hour. (Shown in the chart below) This would mean that a living wage for Grand Rapids would be between $25 – $30 an hour, which most businesses that are part of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce are not paying. In fact, the GR, Michigan and national Chambers of Commerce always lobby to oppose even the inadequate minimum wage proposals. 

Ultimately, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has a long track record for not caring about the most vulnerable people in our community. This is because the local Chamber of Commerce is made up primarily of the economic and political elite, which will never do anything that threatens or diminishes their own interests, unless that are confronted by resistance movements to do so. The recently held Policy Conference by the GR Chamber and who they invited to speak is just one more affirmation of their commitment to power and privilege. 

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