For exactly half my life now I’ve called Grand Rapids home. I came here from Canada to go to college and since my Junior year I’ve never gone home for more than a week at a time.
Home for me was the small town of Trenton, Ontario, with a population of about 15,000. Most people in Canada would only know Trenton as the home to one of the country’s largest air bases. Many of the factories that once provided valuable jobs for the town have left that area, although I believe Domtar is still there. You could always smell the creosote treatment of railway ties when entering Trenton from the north. When I’ve gone back in recent years, I’ve been saddened a little that the town seems to have fallen on rough times. Last summer I went home for a week and revisited some of the places of my youth. Let me just say that, although there was an element of nostalgia, I was happy that I have a new hometown — Grand Rapids.
When I first came to Grand Rapids in the late ’80s, I was happy with a city that offered so much more than the small-town I grew up in. Don’t get me wrong, I like Trenton and my upbringing there helped make me the person I am today (which is to say, I’m happy with who I am!). What’s amazing about that statement is that Grand Rapids is so much better today than it was 20-some years ago!
The complete renaissance of downtown Grand Rapids has been nothing short of amazing. Shortly after graduating from Calvin College, I went to work for the Grand Rapids Business Journal which, at that time, was based in the Trust Building on the corner of Pearl and Ottawa. It was exciting to work downtown near the bustling office buildings, restaurants and traffic. After five o’clock, however, downtown pretty much emptied out and became a ghost town. Now, with the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, Civic Theatre, numerous condo developments and scores of restaurants and bars that didn’t exist just 20 years ago, downtown has become a destination for the region.
Now, with events like ArtPrize and festivals and celebrations and spontaneous, social media-driven events, there’s a buzz around the city’s core. That buzz extends to the edges too. Meijer Gardens is a beautiful attraction bringing people from all over to our city. The Whitecaps and their beautiful ball park were still just a vision when I first came here, and now they’re well-established and sometimes an afterthought with everything else that’s going on around here.
I love the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids. I’m in Alger Heights, which has been a wonderful place to raise my children. I hang out in coffee shops in Wealthy Heights and East Hills and Gaslight Village and savor the unique attributes of each micro-community. I love that West Michigan businessmen have stayed loyal to their hometown and contributed greatly to maintaining its viability and vitality. I love my own neighbors and the fact that there are very few fences on my street, allowing our kids to run back and forth to enjoy each others’ companionship.
Since September, I’ve been working on establishing my own public relations consultancy. It’s slow, hard work to gather together new clients and service their needs. I am asked all the time by friends, “How’s your new business?!” and have to reply, honestly, it’s a lot of work and it’s very slow to get started. I remain confident in my abilities, however, and in the fact that the economy will improve and that I will be well-positioned to obtain and service new clients when it does.
That said, other opportunities are out there. By that, I mean in other places. And while I work hard to establish myself here, I owe it to my family to explore other options as well. The few interviews I’ve done have been for jobs in other cities. And if the right opportunity with the right employer comes along, I’ll have to go.
In the meantime, I’m gonna continue to love GR and hope the city loves me back! It has for more than two decades. It’s provided me with education, employment, entertainment, family and friends. And now I’m hoping it’ll provide enough clientele to help Luymes Public Relations not only survive, but thrive, in a way that will help me give back to this community for the decades to come!