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Michigan Credit Union League

AC&E Returns to Michigan's Fastest Growing City

We take AC&E to Grand Rapids every third year and, like clockwork, see spikes in attendance when we come back to the city that refuses to quit growing.

In 2016, The New York Times named Grand Rapids one of its “52 Places to Go,” while USA Today readers voted Michigan’s second largest city “Best Beer Town” and “Best Beer Scene.” Big things are happening in Grand Rapids, and the nation is noticing.

The Numbers Game

With a larger number of memberships than any other Michigan city, Grand Rapids’ 10 headquartered credit unions have their hands full. Accumulatively, they account for 409,000 memberships, or approximately 8 percent of the state’s total. For a comparison, the next largest area is Lansing, with 136,000 members, per fourth quarter data.

With such an influx in memberships, it’s an understatement to say credit unions have played a large part in Grand Rapids’ boom. Unsurprisingly, recent data shows that area credit unions’ lending portfolios are trending upward across the board. At the end of 2016, member business loans at Grand Rapids credit unions were growing at a 10 percent rate, which most likely directly contributes to the city having the second lowest unemployment rate of Michigan’s metro areas with 3.0 percent.

Another useful barometer for gauging the health of a city is its housing market, and to take a look at Grand Rapids homes over the past decade is to get a wider snapshot of the city’s growth. Since 2007, housing prices have risen 13.1 percent, grossly outpacing every other metropolitan area in the state outside of Ann Arbor. Per NCUA, 67 percent of the loan portfolios of Grand Rapids credit unions were dedicated to first mortgages in the fourth quarter of last year.

While the city’s public accolades advertise the latest attractions and downtown destinations, credit unions are there, proving themselves as willing and dependable partners to any and all contributing to the expansion and success of Grand Rapids.

Credit Union Perspective

Joe Beckwith, My Personal Credit Union’s VP of marketing, has lived in Grand Rapids all his life. Like everyone else, he has noticed his hometown continue to grow and gain popularity. Commenting on the town's boom he said, “When I was younger, specifically downtown, everyone left at 5 o'clock and it basically cleared out. There were very few things happening at night in downtown Grand Rapids. I mention that because it's so interesting to see what it's like now. It's very walkable, tons of restaurants, tons of craft breweries, tons of things to do every night; there’s always something going on.”

Beckwith also mentioned the town’s particular appeal to young professionals, “Now we're experiencing the Millennial generation wanting to live downtown, and that's expanded into the neighborhoods. They are becoming places to live for Millennials because they’re on bus routes, they can hop on their bike or walk to downtown. They don't even need a car.” He continued, “A lot of different organizations are doing a lot of different things to make Grand Rapids a cool city.”

Beckwith, a routine AC&E attendee, admits that the burgeoning city appears to translate to a more enthusiastic convention showing, “When it's here, it seems like the numbers go up.”

With such an infectious buzz around the city, it makes sense that Grand Rapids credit unions have also seen a significant increase in younger memberships over the last five years. “I think Grand Rapids’ popularity boom has definitely made it easier for credit unions in the area,” said Beckwith, who has seen the member demographics of My Personal Credit Union trend younger. “It’s definitely easier to add new young members when more people are moving in.”

While the influx of new, young members has been an obvious benefit to area credit unions’ field of membership, Beckwith said it also offers new and interesting challenges to the workforce. Grand Rapids’ surplus of industry jobs has forced other organizations, such as financial institutions, to be proactive about showing prospective recruits everything they have to offer.

“We have to show them, we have to make our case,” said Beckwith. “We provide a very nice benefits package and opportunities for advancement and a lot of times people don't take into account the big picture, that some of the other industry jobs show you that salary but it's a contract job at a big company or a small company and they don't offer those benefits.”

“It’s like anything else; things change quickly and you have to be able to adapt quickly,” concluded Beckwith.

Beer City, USA

After being voted as the United States number one travel destination in 2014 by Lonely Planet, Grand Rapids has seen incredible growth in not only tourism, but a large business boom and a consistent increase in population.

Along with being Michigan's second largest city, Grand Rapids wears many hats, one being Beer City, USA, following the aforementioned 2016 USA Today readers poll. Hosting more than 40 breweries, the nation’s Beer City has more brewery property per square mile than almost anywhere else in the country.

The long list of breweries in the area include Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids Brewing Company, New Holland Brewing and The Mitten Brewing Company. In neighboring cities are Perring Brewing Company, Big Lake Brewing Company, Grand Armory Brewing Company, Odd Side Ales and Bells Brewery. Among the long list of watering holes, the perennially packed Founders Brewing Company sticks out among the rest.

After completing a $40 million expansion in 2015, which was largely contributed to the incredible sales of their All Day IPA, Founders continued to outgrow their city block and added another building about a mile from their main location. All Day IPA now accounts for half of the liquid they bottle, keg and can and is now sold in 35 states. Only a year and a half after the beer hit the market, it was accounting for 25 percent of Founders total sales. If you haven’t tried All Day already, don’t forget to see what all the fuss is about this summer, along with some other choices that can only be found at their Grand Rapids taproom.

But Grand Rapids is more than just the nation’s beer capitol; it also holds its own in the events department. There is never a shortage of activities happening and there is something for everyone. For those who enjoy fresh food and great community, the farmer’s market downtown is open every day. For visitors who would like a craft coffee instead of a craft beer, Madcap Coffee Co. makes a mean chai latte. Stella’s comes highly recommended if you’re looking for great vegetarian dinner options. Yesterdog is the place to go for a fantastic coney dog–the most entertaining part is trying to find your celebrity crush on the wall, because they’ve most likely been there.

Last but not least, Frederik Meijer Gardens is essentially a real-life Narnia; the art sculptures and exhibits provide hours of relaxing entertainment. Concurrent with AC&E, they will be offering an exclusive exhibit of the works of contemporary Chinese postmodernist Ai Weiwei. Art fans looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience should make sure to schedule some free time to head to the Gardens.

This article originally ran in the Quarter 2, 2017 issue of Contact Magazine.


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2017-06-05 00:00:00