How did you get involved in public relations?
I started in Public Relations after college at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, moved to the oil industry with Amoco, then joined Amway Corporation’s media relations team before I opened my own firm 32 years ago. Today, our firm is well recognized for our client support to manage issues, brand awareness and new product launches and we have a unique practice working with many Michigan companies on talent recruitment and retention. This is our work that ties to working with our City branding, and helping the City understand the attributes of a great brand.
My work with more than 90 clients in the corporate world has given me the opportunity to play in the community enhancement world. Our firm led the PR for ArtPrize, Laughfest, we were the firm that introduced HopCat (which led to Beer City USA). Our work is well recognized nationally in the social media for having a timely, strong conversation team. We developed a video about our community – surpassed 600,000 likes on social – and is now used by more than 200 regional employers to introduce the region to new hires and recruits.
You have been very influential in building, retaining, and attracting talent in the region. How did you get involved in this work? What are some techniques that you’ve found to be successful?
I am on the founding board of TALENT 2025, an organization started by Fred Keller, CEO, Cascade Engineering – designed to build a system understanding of the talent needs of our 13+ county region of Michigan. Today we have about 110 CEOs who are now members of TALENT2025 – we have about 20 mini groups that operate throughout the region all designed to understand and align the talent needs of our region from early childhood thru retirement. Our group represents about 260,000 actual jobs in the region. We are helping the system improve by illuminating gaps in the system, identifying and investing in the best practices, we have regional work in attention and attraction and more than 100 companies sharing best hiring and retention practices.
Why did you decide to live in Grand Rapids?
Job! Then husband – then opened my own firm – then kids – 40 years later – still here!
What are the top issues facing Grand Rapids today?
We are growing – by leaps and bounds. With growth comes challenges.
- Inclusivity – attracting and retaining a more diverse work force. We have less than 11% diversity population in our market. It is hard to SEE YOU as we attract diversity.
- Affordable/Attainable housing within the city – we are recognized as one of the top three cities for “housing shortages” within the downtown we have about 6,000 units SHORT of demand.
- Parking in the city tied to the right size of public transit.
What are one or two projects on which you are currently working that excite you?Everything I do is exciting!
We are trying to open an AMP (advanced manufacturing partnership) program lab in downtown Grand Rapids. For six years we have worked to develop an AMP program where employers can work collaboratively to place employers in a learn-and-earn effort in manufacturing. We have worked to align curriculums from community colleges to universities. We now have three co-horts (about 30 students in each) in these programs. The students earn $15 per hour + college tuition paid and time to go to school each week. Next we will build a lab in the hub of the bar district within the downtown area. The goal with the lab is to help change the perception of the manufacturing jobs of the future – show people that are walking by the building – what maker space looks like – how the jobs of the future are not what they think – but are very attractive. Western Michigan University and Grand Rapids Community College are partners in this program.
I am working with McDonald’s Restaurants in Michigan (more than 36,000 employees in our state) to help connect the employees to community colleges. We are now working with colleges to set up articulation agreements where some of the training that individuals do in management at the restaurant can be applied toward a degree, then McDonald’s can incentivize employees with tuition assistance to keep going on their education. $500,000 worth of tuition assistance scholarships have already been awarded in our state.
What’s your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
The work that you do in your day job – is also relevant in/for your city. Cities need help to ideate and innovate, they need business leaders to convene conversations that will allow businesses to collaborate. Collaboration provides traction and scale. We come from years of public private partnerships in the future we need more private – private + public partnerships. Employees don’t want to go to an employer to work – they are attracted by a city/community that is showing it’s uniqueness and relevance in new ways – so they see themselves in that community. Business has to be involved in this, it is not the City’s job to attract and retain talent.
What should we know about the your work that you haven’t yet mentioned because I didn’t ask the right question?
I am always wanted to be in the background – not on stage. My work is successful because my clients – incredible CEOS- are willing to get involved. I love bringing them together with their city and state. But it is not at all me – it is we. Please know that I did not want to do this because it is not me – I am just the one who shares a reason to work together and the results of our collective impact.