Grand Rapids is experiencing sweeping changes in the way it looks and in the way people live, work and play. The population is growing faster than anywhere else in the state
, families are returning to the public schools
, new restaurants and businesses are constantly celebrating their grand debuts, the Grand River is about to become one of the city’s biggest recreation areas
, the healthcare industry is drawing national attention
, residents are increasingly changing the way they get around the city—from hopping on the bus to pedaling on their bikes
, and mixed-use developments are emerging throughout the community.
Though for centuries overlooked in the skilled trades, women are making a comeback in a big way in construction. Equipped with ambition and seeking out educational and training programs tailored specifically for them, Michigan women are building the future—one brick, beam, or conquered stereotype at a time.
In 1826, French trader, Louis Campau, established a trading post within a wooded, pristine wilderness where indigenous Odawa, Ojibwa, and Potawatomi peoples thrived all along the banks of the Grand River. Five years later, Campau purchased the City of Grand Rapids’ current downtown business district for $90 from the federal government. By the time the City incorporated in 1850, it had one furniture factory and a handful of shops. In the following decades, banks, churches, and more furniture factories accommodated a growing industry and a growing population, which provided investment and labor.
Like many American cities that struggled to save their downtowns in the ‘60s, Grand Rapids’ fling with Urban Renewal did little to restore its place as a thriving destination. However, local city leaders, developers, and builders continued to plan, invest, and build. Events like the annual June Festival of the Arts (1970), destinations like Rosa Parks Circle (1995), and entertainment venues like the Van Andel Arena (1996) and DeVos Place (2003) began bringing people back downtown. Meanwhile, downtown’s buildings began rising to the occasion.
The demand for the design and construction of new buildings for housing and mixed-use business applications has been on the rise in Grand Rapids. The influx of residents into the city, as well as the growth of a variety of local industries, from manufacturing to tourism, has created new demand for construction. Yet, the pool of trained and experienced constructions workers has remained static, if not outright shrinking. Area companies are facing unforeseen challenges in meeting the demand for both new construction and for skilled workers, which they are addressing by employing a number of strategies. Included in these strategies are new local training programs and alliances between construction trade associations.
Across the country, advancing technologies, the Affordable Care Act, and a consumer-driven healthcare market have motivated those delivering medical services to take a new look at how they design their facilities—everything from primary care practices to high-tech radiology services. This trend holds true in the Greater Grand Rapids Area, where Mercy Health
, Spectrum Health
, and Metro Health–University of Michigan Health
have all designed new facilities that not only keep pace with current technologies and medical practice, but also provide flexibility for an ever-changing industry.
"It's almost impossible to pick what your average student looks like," says Scott Mattson, job training manager at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC). Referring to the college's construction and electrician training programs, Mattson echoes a sentiment of the construction industry in general: the workforce is constantly evolving. Despite shifting with technology and the economy, construction is a sector that remains constant in one vital area: the need for professional, skilled workers.
With industries that are built on word-of-mouth recommendations and connections in the field, like construction, how can minority workers and business owners get ahead? And who are the organizations working to increase diversity in an industry that is so desperate for skilled labor? Here in Grand Rapids, contractors and their affiliates are beginning to see the light, working to diversify the voices and faces in the industry, and equipping them with the tools (pun intended) needed to succeed in construction.