GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Right Place, Inc. has revealed its 10-year plan to transform the greater Grand Rapids area into a major technology hub of the Midwest.
The economic development organization’s goal is to grow the region’s tech sector by 20,000 jobs to meet rising demand for talent.
“Our regional businesses are driven by technology, and we believe it is our next big opportunity. This collaborative plan offers a detailed roadmap to achieve our community’s bold vision and make it a reality,” The Right Place, Inc. President and CEO Randy Thelen stated in a Tuesday news release.
In a recent Right Place survey of more than 100 local businesses, 72% said they planned to increase tech hiring over the next five years, totaling 3,200 jobs among that group alone.
The Right Place says the survey also showed most businesses found technology “highly important” to their strategy and planned to invest more in that area. Cybersecurity, cloud-based computing and artificial intelligence garnered the most interest among those surveyed.
“We’ve learned in the pandemic, virtually every company is a technology company,” Thelen told News 8, “whether you’re the restaurant on Main Street that uses technology like never before to take and place your orders or you’re the largest employer in the region and you have more cybersecurity needs than you’ve seen in the past.”
The Right Place’s new 10-year strategy includes creating a robust worker pipeline, building the tech community through industry-focused events, incubators and entrepreneurial programs, increasing and improving broadband service, and connecting tech-focused businesses.
“Some of it is big and small decisions made at our universities. Can we double and triple the output of our computer science programs? Can we add tech into virtually everything that our high schoolers are learning?” Thelen said. “We need to grow our tech talent pipeline here substantially.”
If successful, 10% of jobs in the greater Grand Rapids region would be in the tech field.
“It’s just such an exciting time to be in Grand Rapids and to see the growth that we’re having. We have a lot to offer and I think this will just be another great opportunity for us as a region,” Rick Baker with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce said.
Midsize cities like Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, North Carolina, have become known as tech hubs over the last few years. Baker said he believes the affordability of the midsize cities gives them an advantage over large cities that are tech hubs. He said that can help keep talent here as well as add more tech job opportunities.
“One of the things that you hear often times is if you’re going to recruit someone from outside of the area, what other opportunities will there be for me there or is this sort of a one-horse town,” Baker said. “The broader the opportunities, the more successful we will be in retaining the talent we have as well as attracting talent from outside of our region.”
The Right Place, Inc. and hundreds of business, community and education leaders spent more than six months researching and shaping the plan. Gentex CEO Steve Downing and Davenport University President Richard Pappas spearheaded the technology task force behind it all.
“We are hearing the scream for tech talent all over the place and by the way, it’s in every field. It’s not just technology. It’s technology in health care. It’s technology in business,” said Amy Mansfield, the dean of the College of Technology and the College of Business at Davenport University. “Four higher education institutions are working on this problem. You’d think we’re still producing enough (talent) for our West Michigan area (businesses) and we’re not.”
Mansfield says the demand for programs like ybersecurity have increased substantially.
Stakeholders have already started rolling out the strategy with scouting trips to other tech hubs, ramping up marketing our region to national and international levels and planning the inaugural Grand Rapids Tech Week for Sept. 21 through Sept. 24.