GVSU and Grand Rapids help to build the economy

Sarah Hillenbrand

For Grand Valley State University students who are looking to stay in the Grand Rapids area after graduation, having a strong local economy is essential.

According to a recent survey conducted by Brian Long, director of supply management research for the Seidman College of Business, business trends in the greater Grand Rapids area are flat, meaning that business conditions are neither increasing nor declining.

“It will impact primarily students who want to stay,” Long said. “Those that do plan to stay in the area want to enter an economy that is as good as possible.”

Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said GVSU is a positive influence in the local economy because it provides employers a good market to choose from.

“GVSU does a good job in that it provides the market for hiring its graduates,” Johnston said. “There is a great relationship between Grand Valley and West Michigan economy.”

The wellbeing of the local economy also affects GVSU’s ability to keep costs low for students, said Winnie Brinks, state representative in Michigan’s 76th House District. “The economy has a strong impact in terms of being able to provide low costs and a competitive curriculum,” Brinks said. “A stronger economy makes the university stronger.”

The developments that GVSU is adding to its campus also help the Grand Rapids community, said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

“I see Grand Valley and the city of Grand Rapids as very close partners, and what’s good for Grand Valley is good for Grand Rapids, too,” he said.

Heartwell said he hopes to keep the local economy strong through economic development policies that encourage growth in the economy. One reason it’s important is so that there are jobs available for students when they graduate, as well as making sure the community is exciting and interesting so that students want to stay, he said.

The relationship between the local economy and GVSU isn’t one-sided though — GVSU also has a great impact on the Grand Rapids economy. Kara Wood, who is the economic development director of Grand Rapids, said having GVSU in the community helps the city to find talented workers.

“Without a strong educational institution in a city, it makes it much harder to attract and retain talent,” Wood said.

Many cities struggle with attracting talent and Johnston agreed that GVSU greatly adds to that effort.

“One of the big things we see at the Chamber (of Commerce) is how do we trap and retain talent, and Grand Valley helps with that,” he said. “We tend to lose sight that we are a college town, and that helps to create the vibe of the now and the future.”

Wood and Johnston also added that the university contributes a lot of investments to the city and provides many jobs. GVSU developments such as the new business building on the Pew Campus, as well as the new library on the Allendale Campus, add to the city and make it more attractive to come to, Johnston said.

“(GVSU is) a breeding ground for entrepreneurs, and it’s a developing place that provides different offerings that a city doesn’t provide,” Wood said.

Heartwell added that the importance of universities in the economy is a newer idea that is just becoming clear.

“It is a key element of our local environment,” he said. “We used to only look at higher education as an important service that is offered in the community, but we’re just now coming to understand education as a part of the economic sector.”

The partnership of GVSU with Grand Rapids has served both well, Wood said. “We’re fortunate to have Grand Valley as a part of everything we do citywide,” she said. “In many cities that isn’t always the case, that universities are not always a willing partner in a developing community.”

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