Last week, The Right Place business development team hosted eight site selection consultants, from around the country, for a three-day familiarization tour of the Grand Rapids metro area.
For those unfamiliar with the profession, site selectors represent expanding and relocating companies, providing site location and business assistance services. They represent 40-60% of all corporate expansions and relocations in the nation.
During their tour, the group was introduced to some of the many assets Grand Rapids and West Michigan have to offer, including: Grand Rapids’ growing life science community (Medical Mile), business-to-business cross collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship, education and talent availability, and some of the many available properties in the region.
However, it was their comments at the conclusion of their time that was the most telling. During a community stakeholder event hosted at the GRAM on the final day of the tour, the group unanimously agreed that Grand Rapids and West Michigan “fights above our weight class.” The group was amazed at the insane level of open collaboration among area businesses, innovative approaches to manufacturing growth, the over $2 billion in life sciences investment along Medical Mile, and our incredible quality of life in the region. In many ways, Grand Rapids’ business assets and advantages rival those of many tier one cities around the U.S.
So, with feedback like that, why isn’t Grand Rapids the leading global destination for business, talent, and innovation? According to this group of visitors, much of it comes down to branding … or, more accurately, a lack thereof. It’s not that Grand Rapids and West Michigan’s brand perception is bad; it’s that there is no perception at all. In many ways, our region is still perceived as fly-over area between Chicago and Detroit.
That, in a nutshell, was the strongest recommendation of this group. The philosophy of “if you build it, they will come,” does not work in today’s noise-filled global business conversation. Grand Rapids must start to speak louder, more frequently, and with greater swagger. We have a tremendous amount of business strength in our community. Now we must do what does not come natural for many of us; we must begin to confidently tell our own story. We must share the stories of growth, success, and opportunity in West Michigan. That is how we build Grand Rapids’ brand perception. Not through changing logos, but through changing perceptions.
We also want to take this opportunity to again thank the 22 area business sponsors that helped make this event possible. Without their support, this event would not have happened. With their support, eight leading site selection consultants now have a very different perception of Grand Rapids.