Heartwell: Grand Rapids ‘destination city’

Feb 5, 2011

Grand Rapids’ Mayor George Heartwell painted his city as a destination for medical researchers, entrepreneurs, artists and young people in his State of the City address Saturday.

Heartwell also discussed the city’s efforts with neighboring cities and Kent County to consolidate services over the past two years. He says Governor Rick Snyder will use the Grand Rapids region as a good example of service consolidation.

“And as he prepares his own initiatives to revive the state of Michigan I know that our work here will provide a format for new legislation that will position us to continue leading Michigan toward recovery.”

Last year, Grand Rapids and Wyoming consolidated to a single 9-1-1 dispatch center. The year before they finalized an agreement to create a single authority to manage biosolids - leftovers from the waste water treatment process. That waste is turned into alternative energy through a number of ways, it lowered people’s sewer bills, and saves both cities money. Now the two cities are discussing way to create a single fire authority.

Heartwell highlighted 5 accomplishments.

  • The ‘Medical Mile’

There’s been loads of activity on what’s been dubbed Grand Rapids’ Mecial Mile this year. Michigan State University relocated its College of Human Medicine there. Ferris State University announced plans to buy space there to relocate part of its Doctor of Pharmacy program. Last month, Spectrum Health opened its DeVos Children’s Hospital.

"Of course what happens in those buildings is greater than the buildings themselves."

Heartwell noted last year, the first heart transplant took place at a Grand Rapid’s hospital.

"The next break-through in cancer research or research in Parkinson’s disease will as likely as not come out of the VanAndel Research Institute."

  • Growing opportunities for higher education

22 institutions of higher education on the area 72,000 students are seeking degrees here

"We won’t keep all 72,000 when they graduate but listen to these amazing statistics coming out of Grand Valley State University. 92% of GVSU’s recent graduates are employed or are in graduate school. And of that 92%, 88% are (doing so) here in Michigan."

GVSU will start construction this spring on the Seidman School for Business downtown. Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art and Design is renovating the old historic federal building to exanpd there.

  • Becoming the region’s center for arts and culture

Heartwell highlighted investments in opera, ballet, and new movie productions downtown. He didn’t skip ArtPrize either, highlighting studies by economists at GVSU. They estimate the contest has generated a regional impact of $7.6 million.

"Artprize proved to the world that when it comes to art and culture Grand Rapids is anything but insignificant."

  • An environment that fosters business

                Focus on sustainability

Heartwell says businesses understand the importance of sustainability. The US Chamber of commerce named Grand Rapids the country’s most sustainable city last year. Heartwell noted that designation as an opportunity to snub a Newsweek article listing Grand Rapids as one of the nation’s ‘dying cities’.

“Put that in your pipe Newsweek and smoke it”

                Welcoming business environment

Heartwell said higher education and world-class healthcare draw big businesses. Along with a number of initiatives aimed at fostering businesses and entrepreneurs.

                Quality of life

Heartwell listed parks, natural resources, entertainment, and fine dining.

                Public/private partnership

Heartwell says this is what distinguishes Grand Rapids from global competitors.

"Our networked community is capable of economic development feats that most communities cannot even imagine. We have a competency that few posses and many desire. Our ability to identify critical objective sand then work together in their pursuit makes us remarkable."

  • Focus on children and youth

Heartwell used a chunk of his time to highlight efforts on a recently completed Youth Master Plan for the city.

Most of Heartwell’s speech focused on the positive things going on in city government. But he warned that the city’s financial future depends on city employees taking further concessions in pay and benefits. 

"There’s no doubt in my mind that unless we tackle this problem today, we cannot be sustainable over the long term."

Heartwell wants union worker’s pay to mirror non-union workers’ but admits the negotiations are difficult.

Heartwell says the city will continue to transform municipal services. The city has redeveloped it’s website and launched several online programs like 311, GR City points, and the new city app for smartphones.