95.3 / 88.5 FM Grand Rapids and 95.3 FM Muskegon
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Crain's Grand Rapids Business Brief

Crain's Grand Rapids Business
Crain's Grand Rapids Business

- Kent County revolving loan fund supporting affordable housing
- West Michigan heart surgery milestones
- West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce new HQ

Mark Sanchez: This has been one of the big issues for quite a while here in Kent County, as it is in many markets across the state and across the country. Affordable housing, given the land costs, the labor costs, material costs, and everything that goes into it. Not a lot of folks building housing these days that some folks consider as starter homes are affordable. And of course, that term affordable is open to interpretation by different people based on where they sit. But it's a real issue because if you want to draw people to your community to help sustain that economy going forward, they need a place to live and they need a place that they can afford to live. So, Kent County Commissioners here about two weeks ago, kind of approved parameters and adopted these guidelines for revolving loan fund that will launch with an initial $58 million. This will support both rental and for sale housing development in the county. Kent County, of course, back in December appropriated $17.5 million from the ARPA, Federal American Rescue Plan Act, to create the loan fund. And the guidelines really specify where this loan fund will work. And first, the county is going to work with outfit IFF out of Chicago to administer this loan fund. And the parameters include for rental projects. They'll be priced for households that earn at or below 80% of the county area median income which is about $71,600 for a family of four in Kent County. Home ownership projects will be priced for households earning at or below 120% of the area median income which is currently about $107,400 for a family of four. And then all the projects have to maintain affordability requirements for at least 20% of the housing units for at least 10 years. So, it's really an effort by Kent County Commissioners to, boy, help bring some more affordable housing to the marketplace. Because again, we've heard these reports for a while that we have an economy that's dependent on finding workers. We have a worker shortage. We've been writing about that for years, actually. And part of the equation to perhaps solving that and bringing more people here to add to the workforce is ensuring that they have an affordable place to live. So, here's one potential solution of probably what will take many over the years because there is a big shortage of housing in Kent County as well, I believe. Can't remember the exact number that the folks that some of the organizations have been out, but it shows there's a lot of housing units needed in Kent County over the next decade or more.

Patrick Center: I know that you've been reporting on the housing situation in Canton and Ottawa County. Location is always a part of that equation. How far deep do we get into this conversation about affordable housing?

Mark Sanchez: Well, all those issues come into play. Again, where do you go? Is there availability in the city and urban areas? Do you go to the rural areas? We're beginning to see more folks reusing existing commercial buildings. We've seen talk. about stories out there about hotels that have lower occupancy, using some of those and redeveloping those into housing units. We've seen other former commercial or industrial buildings redeveloped for commercial or for housing, and that's all part of the equation. When you talk about how far does it go? I would think the folks who are working on this issue, they're welcoming basically any solution that can be put on the table and considered.

Patrick Center: We're talking with Crain's Grand Rapids Business senior writer, Mark Sanchez. The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has designed and is preparing to build a new headquarters.

Mark Sanchez: Really, a new place, a new home for the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. They're going to use a historic $5 million state budget allocation to acquire an industrial building on the southwest side as part of a broader vision and effort to elevate the Latino business voices here in the Grand Rapids area. They're planning to acquire the building. It's a 17,000 square foot building, former manufacturing facility off Godfrey Avenue Southwest. The property has dozens of buildings that the folks at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce say they've been eyeing for a number of years and it's going to be about a $9.5 million project, and it will include a business incubator. So, they've got some money to raise through a capital campaign. But it really shows kind of the growth of this organization, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce serving that constituency and it wants to grow and do more and help really raise up that Latino business community and entrepreneurs.

Patrick Center: I had the opportunity to speak with Guillermo Cisneros, who's the president and CEO of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He talks about having that infrastructure in place for talent development.

Mark Sanchez: And that again is when you talk about the previous issue and this one as well. It's all part of the equation. You not only need facilities, but you need talent and this particular constituency developing that talent. And you're right, the language issue is there and a barrier for some people. So, you need organizations to help overcome those barriers. And it's all about, again, raising this organization up to a higher level and bringing those Latino business owners to a higher level as well. And, you know, supporting entrepreneurship.

Patrick Center: He also talked with me about the number of graduates who are available and the idea of having this pipeline, working with local businesses to provide those opportunities.

Mark Sanchez: You know, I did a story earlier this year at Davenport University, starting a program to more appeal to the Latino population. That was exactly part of the thinking there is the minority starting businesses, the entrepreneurship you're seeing, and how do you play into that? We're diversifying. In this economy, the population base here in Kent County, Grand Rapids, West Michigan, all over is diversifying. So how do you play to that? You play to your strengths. It's more diverse. You put things in place to support and bring up those diverse entrepreneurs.

Patrick Center: And finally, this is a story that you're reporting on a pair of West Michigan hospitals surpassing heart surgery milestones.

Mark Sanchez: Yeah, you know, I've been writing healthcare in this marketplace for a while. And think back, first in 2009, then known as Spectrum Health, now Corewell Health, started heart transplants. And I actually, I believe, let me correct myself, it was 2010, started doing heart transplants here in Grand Rapids for the first time. And previously, if you had heart failure and you were a candidate for a transplant, you went to Chicago, Detroit, or further to get that transplant. And that took you away from all that support network, the family, and friends. You know, this is not just, go and get it done, go home. This is a long-term process of preparing for, having the procedure done, and then recovering and living that new life you've been given. And just recently, Corewell Health surpassed 200 heart transplants that it's done here in Grand Rapids. And it's on a nice trajectory. It's one of the interesting things. The gentleman who’s part of that program, Dr. Michael Dickinson, said, one of the concerns when they started this was that it was going to dilute market share across the state. You're just doing that. But he said what they believe has occurred is because this procedure is more or available here in Grand Rapids, more folks who are candidates for a transplant, rather than in his words, accepting their fate and treating their condition with medication, they're not willing to undergo this procedure because they can do it at home. They're close to family, they're close to friends. They have that support structure they need to recover and heal here in Grand Rapids. So that's one element of the story. The other is, you know, the former Metro Health, now U of M Health West, University of Michigan, last fall started open heart surgery. That's the first time in 20-plus years that we've had a competing, a second open heart surgery program here in Grand Rapids. And in the first year, U of M Health West expected to do about 50 procedures. Well, last week, a week ago yesterday, or a week ago Monday, they did the 100th open heart surgery there at the Wyoming Hospital campus. So, they're well ahead of what they projected. They expect to now complete about 120 procedures in the first year of the program and continue growing it perhaps to maybe 200 in the second 12 months and 300 procedures in the third year. And what this all points to is you think about where Grand Rapids has gone and from point A to today over the last 25 years and narrow that down to thinking about the health care system here in Grand Rapids, what spectrum has become. U of M Health came into the market here when it acquired uh, Metro Health a number of years ago and how much more readily available you have both. You know, the heart transplants and now you have a choice for open heart surgery if you are in a condition where you need that surgery. And it just kind of really speaks to just that growth of healthcare and the growth of these two health systems and these two particular programs for those service lines.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.