Changing Gears Goes To Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids means a lot to Michiganians. It’s a business, health care and education capital for the western side of the state. It’s the home town of a president, Gerald R. Ford, who helped steady the country after Richard M. Nixon resigned. And it’s also my mom’s hometown.

Skaters in front of the Grand Rapids Art Museum

For all those reasons, I was delighted on Monday to speak to an audience of 400 people at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. My topic: “Reinventing Our State” which fits right in with our mission at Changing Gears.


Grand Rapids has changed a lot since my mom’s day — and much of its development has come in the past 20 years. Many visitors take in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, where President Ford’s brief tenure is commemorated, and where he is buried.

Still others visit the Medical Mile or the campuses of its many colleges, such as Grand Valley State University, which has a campus just across the Grand River from downtown, Cornerstone and Calvin College, the alma mater of Changing Gears’ Chicago reporter, Niala Boodhoo.

Rapidians are proud of their sprawling city, with its grand vistas and historic homes. So, some people took umbrage recently when Newsweek magazine placed Grand Rapids No. 10 on its list of America’s Dying Cities. Newsweek’s rankings were based on overall population decline as well as the drop in the number of young people in each city.

Grand Rapids’ population dropped 2.1 percent over the past 10 years, while its population of people under 18 dropped 2.2 percent. To be sure, Michigan was the only state in the nation to lose population during the past 10 years, according to the U.S. census.

a view of downtown Grand Rapids from the banks of the Grand River.

The conversation at the Economic Club ranged from the role that Detroit plays in Michigan’s revival to Right to Work laws (a subject we’ll be addressing soon at Changing Gears) to the future of the automobile industry. Here’s what the Grand Rapids Press had to say about my talk.

What do you see as crucial to Michigan’s reinvention? Feel free to leave a comment.

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