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Principals for Driving Community Success in Michigan

John Canepa, Co-Founder, Grand Action
Jim Dunlap, President, Huntington Bank
Dr. Bernard Taylor, Superintendent, Grand Rapids Public Schools 
Curtis Holt, City Manager, City of Wyoming


Four leaders from the greater Grand Rapids area presented various perspectives on what contributes to a strong, successful community.

John Canepa, co-founder, of Grand Action began with a presentation of several successful public/private partnerships in the Cincinnati and Grand Rapids areas.  He astutely observed that private sector support is a catalyst for projects, but the public sector plays a key role in getting them accomplished.  He advised:

  • Take risk, be bold (but do your homework!) 

  • Be collaborative, but act with a sense of urgency

  • Be persistent but flexible and cooperative

Jim Dunlap, president for Huntington Bank focused his discussion on how his company makes considerable efforts to remain abreast of what “millennials” seek and identified several key statistics, findings and suggestions, including:

  • Demographics are shifting in a major way, with very few “traditional” suburban households (don’t plan everything based on the “Leave it to Beaver” model of family)

  • Millennials are more likely to rent than buy a home (build affordable rental housing in key urban areas)

  • 30 percent is the “magic” number of millennials to have in a city (Detroit has 12 percent)

  • Millennials don’t like organized, formal social events…they want clutter, mobility and fluidity (country clubs don’t work, small fairs or impromptu gatherings do)

  • Millennials want a walkable area and, more importantly, a reason to walk and an interesting and safe walk (brick streets look nice but don’t accommodate rollerblading or mountain biking; surface parking is evil; activate your first floors of buildings, connect various districts and drive people into other neighborhoods)

  • Convenience and cost should NOT trump walkability, vibrancy

  • Small scale events can be very good (i.e. have an ethnic festival in a smaller ethnic neighborhood rather than making it an enormous event at a city center)

  • Millennials value environmental sustainability (be green!)

  • Millennials value diversity and tolerant attitudes

Bernard Taylor, Superintendent for Grand Rapids Public Schools, provided insight on the strategies the school system is using to adapt to these unparalleled times, and focused extensively on the importance of the school’s success to the overall region’s economic viability.  In the face of major adversity, the system reacted with bold, innovative reforms and strategies which included:

  • Public/private partnerships

  • Shifting to effort-based schools and a deliberate shift in organizational culture

  • Centers of Innovation

He highlighted the importance of engaging the most respected leaders from the community in such a pivotal reform, and stressed that economic and community development are inextricably linked to the success of the education system.

The last speaker from the panel, Cutis Holt, city manager, Wyoming, presented an extensive list of partnerships and cooperative efforts underway in the Grand Rapids region.  He noted that when communities cooperate, they lose some control, but add enormous value to the greater good.  This shift away from parochial interests in the Grand Rapids area was facilitated through an active metro mayors/managers group which provides a foundation of trust and inspires partnerships and collaboration.



If you have any questions, please contact: 
Colleen Layton, or Arnold Weinfeld, .




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