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Panel of Grand Rapids experts

On Monday, there was a panel of Grand Rapids organizational leaders that spoke on the recent rise of Grand Rapids. More than a few times, the humility of West Michigan was brought up as to why the region hasn’t garnered more attention.

So, I’ll break that model, and share some of the things that make this city great that they spoke about.

Included in the panel were Janet Korn from Experience GR, Elissa Hillary from Local First, Tim Mroz from The Right Place and Derek Hunderman of Colliers International.

Hunderman said that a few years ago, national and international companies wouldn’t field calls from West Michigan real estate companies, nothing was out of town, Grand Rapids is truly a homegrown city.

“National investors would hang up before they even heard anything about the project,” he said.

Now, companies are listening, and soon, they should be coming.

Hillary discussed the Local First movement. Ten years ago, when Local First started, it was one of maybe three in the nation. Now there are hundreds of organizations like it in the United States. She said she looks at the East and West Coasts and how they’re supposed to be the leaders in “social enterprise,” Grand Rapids and West Michigan have long been practicing it.

She said it is proven that communities that look local are in general healthier. From higher civic engagement to healthier cities because they tend to be more walkable.

What makes Grand Rapids great, is that it weaves many identities into one. From its sustainable and local first ideals, to its historic manufacturing identity to a huge student population to a thriving arts and cultural community to the current beer craze, it’s all one city.

It’s also left out of many national conversations because it’s “The region that built itself.” Also often being lumped in with Detroit hurts. National media poorly portrays Detroit and most of the nation doesn’t known better, so Grand Rapids and West Michigan, despite a surge, gets left behind with Detroit.

The proximity to other economic regions also will help in the long run. From proximity to Detroit and Chicago, to the outdoor sport haven of Northern Michigan to some of the best freshwater beaches in the world just west of the city, you can have almost anything in just an hour or two.

The quality of life is on the rise as well.

Grand Rapids doesn’t sound like a big city, and it often is dismissed, even in GQ which called it a “Backwater Flyover.” But when a economic consultant comes in and compares it to Brooklyn, Portland and Oakland, you know you’re on the right track.

With Pure Michigan about to launch a national ad introducing the United States to Grand Rapids, a whole lot more people should soon learn that Grand Rapids is the real deal. A vibrant city with a lot to offer.

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