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Published in Economic Development

GR Chamber to bolster diversity and inclusion programming in new year

BY Sunday, December 22, 2019 06:05pm

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce continues to seek out ways to address the persistent talent issues that local companies are facing. Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber, said the organization is advocating for ways to attract talent at the local and state levels, including by expanding programming in 2020. 

What are the Chamber’s biggest areas of focus for 2020?

Over the last couple of years, we have been building up our capacity to deliver programming for our members that will really help them connect to one another, but also to help build their own capacity as a company. It’s things such as the entrepreneurial operating system and getting more companies using that kind of programming, which helps them operate even more efficiently, more effectively, and grow. We will continue to build upon those past successes that we’ve had and focus on programming that really helps our businesses grow. 

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber COURTESY PHOTO

We are also looking at some talent programming because talent continues to be the number one challenge for businesses. We’ll be having a talent summit and talent series in 2020 to share some best practices and some opportunities for potentially trying some different strategies for recruitment and retention of employees and what’s working with others in the region. 

What are you hearing from members around talent predictions for next year?

I think talent’s going to continue to be a real big challenge for employers, though I think most economists are predicting a slight slowdown in early 2020. So that may take off some of the pressure, but not all of the pressure. It’s a very small slowdown and it’s not a long-term one, so I don’t think that’s going to take the pressure off of our ability to find talent for all of our positions that are open. There are more positions open than there are people out there to fill them. That actually has an impact on a company’s ability to grow because if they can’t build enough houses or produce enough widgets, it affects their ability to grow. 

What other business challenges are you tracking?

2020 is a presidential election year, and this one I think is going to be particularly unpredictable, but the presidential years always kind of add an element of unpredictability to the economy. I think keeping a close eye on what’s happening in the political arena is always important for us, as well as the public policy area, because ultimately the political arena is about affecting public policy. We do a lot of work in that space, both at the state and local level, but then partnering with our U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the national level to make sure that we continue to have a state, local and national business climate where our businesses can be effective and competitive in the global marketplace.

What state issues are your top priority?

We still have unanswered questions of the road funding. There’s a lot of us in different segments of the state saying we need to invest more in our infrastructure. We spend a lot of time on unfunded liabilities. We’ve got multiple layers of local government where their pensions and some of the liabilities and the promises they’re making to employees, the funding is not there to support it. We need to address that issue, be prepared before it gets any more challenging for us and it gets to be too big of a hole to dig out of.

What else?

There’s just a whole cadre of different areas where we can think about making some policy changes at the state level that would help address some of our talent challenges. All the way from criminal justice reform to occupational licensing reform — some occupations don’t allow someone who’s served time in prison to get licensed, but … should it be a barrier? — and then even childcare. What can we do with childcare so that potentially removes what could be a barrier for someone going into a job because the cost of childcare or access to childcare is preventing them from taking a job with one of our employers. There’s a lot of different things we are working on that all go back to talent.

The Chamber is also focusing on equity and inclusion. Why is that?

We’re considered at the national levels kind of a leader in this area because we’ve been involved in it for so long. We are not only continuing that programming but expanding that programming in 2020 because more and more businesses are recognizing that our community is changing. It has been, and we need to embrace everyone that’s here and make sure that people have an opportunity to be successful and look at whatever barriers there might be for that success and start breaking those barriers down.

How will that play out in 2020?

We have had for a number of years a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion summit. … We’re continuing that in 2020, but we’re adding a diversity, equity and inclusion series that will dive deeper. We have our Facing Racism program that we will continue to do. That program has been increasing in demand in our employer community, and so we’re delivering that more often than we ever have. And looking at what’s next is our Facing Racism 2.0, to continue to build the capacity of our people and our companies and understanding how to create a work environment that is attractive to a diverse workforce, because we know there’s a lot of research that shows that companies with diverse workforces have increased revenue. Having those lenses at your table, having that diverse thought at your table as your company makes decisions really puts your company at a competitive advantage.

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