Hank Meijer, Co-Chairman & CEO, Meijer Inc.
Co-Chairman and CEO of a retail chain that serves hundreds of thousands of customers each day, Hank Meijer understands how important it is to be accessible. Look at many of the chain’s Grand Rapids area stores and you’ll see that they’re on transit lines; some feature bus stops.
“When we look at a potential store location we ask, ‘how accessible is it; are our customers and team members going to be able to get to us?’” says Meijer.
Leader of a retail chain that began as a single storefront in Greenville, Michigan and now operates almost 200 stores in five states, Meijer also understands the dynamics of growth.
Meijer believes that people need choices – alternate ways of traveling in the region, whether by choice or necessity – and that public transit should be one of those choices.
“Grand Rapids feels as if it’s on the edge of a very exciting future,” says Meijer.
“To make those aspirations real, to meet the needs of a growing region, the more people who can get on board, the better.”
Ellen James, Board Treasurer, Grand Rapids Community College
Ellen James remembers taking the bus to Davenport College as a student. Now in her third term as a board trustee for Grand Rapids Community College, she realizes how vitally important public transit is, not only for students, but to any resident short on other methods of transportation.
“It’s important that this community rally for the best transit system that we can possibly have.”
James recognizes that not everyone who supports a public transit system uses it every day, but points out that easy access to buses benefits someone you know, someone else in your community who may not have the same resources. This access, she says, is key to the West Michigan region’s continued growth and prosperity, getting people to and from school and jobs, and making it easier to attract the interest of visitors and employers from outside the region, further driving our economic engine.
“We tend to look at Grand Rapids as kind of a small town, but it’s quite sophisticated and it’s becoming a major player in this part of the state and in the country. It’s important that this community grow together.”
Joe Jones, President/CEO, E.E. Milestone + Associates, Inc.
A Grand Rapids Urban League board member and deeply involved in community initiatives for many years, Joe Jones has seen the impact of both good and bad economies on the area’s residents. In either scenario, access to public transportation is the foundation for job creation and job opportunities. The underlying question, he says, is always the same – how are people going to get to the jobs?
Jones pointed out that the transit system, The Rapid, serves the employer as well as the employee, that it serves the retailer and the local church, the library, our local government. Its impact is far-reaching yet often unseen and not fully appreciated.
“It speaks to the importance of The Rapid … it’s a major component of the economic engine.”
“No matter where you are in life, either yourself or someone you know is affected by public transportation. If you’re the CEO of a major corporation, there’s no doubt that there are folks within your ranks who are bus riders. If you’re a nuclear family … with cars, there’s no doubt that you have relatives, fellow congregants, who are solely dependent on public transportation.”
Mike VanGessel, President, Rockford Construction
As the leader of a company who’s ideas and innovation have drawn projects and praise from across the state and the nation, Mike VanGessel has a unique perspective of the value of location and mobility. As the hub of the metro area, downtown Grand Rapids helps fuel an economic engine that, while sputtering in other parts of the state, continues to hum in West Michigan. A builder, he knows that a structure’s location is one of the keys to success. The other is mobility – will people be able to access it easily, anytime, in any weather? The key to mobility, he says, is public transportation.
“The bus system is just one component of a bigger conversation we need to have. You can call it taxation or subsidization if you want, but it’s an investment in one of the pieces that make this community a better place to live.”
In a quest to learn more about his own business practice, Bob Roth came to a conclusion…”small changes can lead pretty substantial gains.”
In fact, his own curiosity drove him to explore how a once-a-week commitment to riding The Rapid from home to work could impact his life. Looking at it just from the numbers alone, Roth found an immediate 20% improvement on his commute spending.
“I could see with my own eyes what The Rapid was doing.”
But other aspects of Bob’s experiment proved even more interesting. Who he was sitting next to…and how many there were…was equally impressive. On his early morning commute the bus was full. Half of them were students. The other half were people going to work. Not at all the stereotype. Bob was experiencing how public transportation can act as an economic driver.
David LaGrand, Owner, Wealthy Street Bakery
As a part of the ownership team for Wealthy Street Bakery, David LaGrand and his partners quickly recognized that 75% of their employees could walk, bike or take public transportation to work. The take-away? These people had a choice on how to get to and from work. In fact, the choice equates to $2 per hour. For David, that’s a meaningful impact in the take-home pay for anyone that chooses to use public transportation.
Adding public transportation is doing more than that though. It’s creating community. A community that can grow and excel. But it also means we’re now competing with communities for people that expect these services.
“We have to have the courage to invest if we’re going to prosper”
LaGrand sees public transportation as a long-term investment – a commitment to where we want to go. Public transportation is a key part of the infrastructure we need.
American Seating is unique in its ability to discuss the benefits of good public transportation. On one hand, few companies are as dependent on the success of public transportation as American Seating. An industry leader in seating for public transportation, the demand for their products directly maintains manufacturing jobs in our area. In fact, over 500 jobs at the company’s west side Grand Rapids facility are connected to the industry.
Those jobs stayed where they are partially because of the industry American Seating serves. Fifteen years, when moving or improving their existing property were both viable options, leadership identified over 200 people that walked or rode the bus. It became one of the key factors to stay. It was an investment in local jobs and economic growth.
“We’re an urban company. That’s the decision we made.”
Clark sees more more good news. “More people are going to be realizing the benefits of using mass transit to get to and from work, to and from shopping. I think it bodes well for any city the size of Grand Rapids to have a good infrastructure of mass transit so we can attract business to the area.”
Rodney Martin, Attorney/Principal; Warner, Norcross & Judd
As a successful banking attorney and diversity partner for Warner, Norcross & Judd; Rodney Martin doesn’t have to rely on public transportation. Rather, he has chosen public transportation as a tool he uses periodically. And he’s not a lone. Numerous other individuals in the firm’s 300-person Grand Rapids workforce use The Rapid on any given day for reliable transportation.
For Martin, he has embraced a number of benefits to having a public transportation system in greater Grand Rapids. While he has transportation choices, he appreciates the benefits it offers individuals getting who need a reliable service. He also appreciates converting a commitment to sustainability into action. His neighbors have taken notice of his practice.
“It’s a good view of what Grand Rapids is all about.”
What may be interesting is social and personal benefits that Martin has recognized in his years using The Rapid and other transit services around the country. It gives him a peaceful start to his day – complete with a cup of coffee before he leaves, a nice walk down to the stop with frequent stop times, a relaxing ride, time to read the paper or listen to the radio – and not have to worry about driving.
Martin’s commitment to public transportation isn’t unique. He sees people of all walks of life. In fact, in his words, “It’s a good view of what Grand Rapids is all about.”
Pete Brand, Principal, Mindscape/Hanon McKendry
As founder of Mindscape at Hanon McKendry, Pete Brand expresses a deep appreciation for the growth of small entrepreneurial business and the growth of West Michigan. From his perspective, despite more recent changes, greater Grand Rapids will continue to grow and bring investment to the area. New forms of commerce will be created.
Along with these great additions will come the challenge of supporting increases in traffic activity. It’s a challenge to change our thinking – to handle the growth.
Brand forecasts that creating more parking isn’t the answer to house all the growth. He sees public transportation as a resource that can address growth and offers energy to the areas it serves. It’s a lifeblood for business – including getting people to work.
Having the proper infrastructure in place to handle the growth is critical.
“We need to think about the community we live in. We need to think outside of ourselves. If I’m asked to support something that will increase the infrastructure and help this area become more prosperous – I’m all for that.”
Rae Bower, Board President, Disability Advocates of Kent County
In spite of physical limitations, Rae Bower considers herself to be an independent person. Four years ago she moved to Grand Rapids and immediately tested her ability to maintain her independence when she needed to venture out to a dentist. Typical to February, it was snowing. Her effort to manage the trek required her to cross busy 28th Street, but the inaccessible curbs and unplowed snow where sidewalks should be meant that she couldn’t stop traffic – so Rae had to risk her life to cross.
Fortunately, this one experience didn’t daunt Rae. After a little research on her part, she discovered GO!Bus. GO!Bus provides door-to-door paratransit service for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. on the same area and at the same days and times as The Rapid fixed-route bus.
Once she discovered Go!Bus, which provides door-to-door paratransit service for senior citizens and persons with disabilities, Rae knew it was for her.
Rae has taken what she has learned and worked passionately for others with disabilities. Her goal is to contribute towards the development of a community in such a way that we are leaving a legacy to our children/mapping out future for their needs in mind.