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Sunday, 16 August 2015 22:00

Q&A: Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor-elect, City of Grand Rapids

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Rosalynn Bliss Rosalynn Bliss COURTESY PHOTO

In an early August primary election against three other candidates, Grand Rapids second ward city commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, 40, captured a majority (66 percent) of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff, secure a victory and become the city’s first female mayor. The mayor-elect will focus now on ensuring a smooth transition as the term-limited Mayor George Heartwell steps down in December after 12 years in office. She also expects to work closely with the three newly elected faces on the nine-member city commission. In the coming months, Bliss says she will be meeting with business and community leaders to identify strategies to build on Grand Rapids’ recent growth, as well as find ways to improve city government. Bliss spoke with MiBiz a week after the election to discuss those strategies.

As you make the transition from city commissioner to mayor, what can the business community expect?

To me, as mayor, the big thing around economic development will be jobs — making sure we are maintaining the jobs we have and then looking at areas that can be expanded. I want to go out and visit our companies that are here in the city, especially our larger employers, and get to know them and thank them for being here.

How would you grade the work Grand Rapids has done in economic development in recent years?

We are economically strong. We have diversity in our business districts, in our manufacturing community. We have a very diverse economy, which is good and helped us weather the economic downturn. But there’s clearly areas we need to improve.

Where should we be improving?

You look at even our unemployment numbers and there’s disparity there. In some areas of the city, you have low unemployment and in other areas, you have higher unemployment. So really it’s looking at those disparities and focusing our energy around the areas of the city that need revitalization — where there is opportunity to bring in jobs. The areas where there are higher unemployment numbers, (we need to be) targeting some resources.

How can the city encourage businesses to locate in some of those areas of higher unemployment?

Neighborhood business districts and neighborhoods are a top priority of mine. There are areas of the city where we have seen significant revitalization, both at the neighborhood residential level, as well as neighborhood business districts. A tool that we have started to use over the last few years, particularly, are the Corridor Improvement Districts (CIDs). Now we have five CIDs in the city, and I think that’s a great tool to utilize to support smaller businesses in those districts.

How can the city help with incentivizing more development?

We need to look at other tools we can utilize and we need to look at resources the city has to build infrastructure. I fundamentally believe that when the city invests in infrastructure projects, private development often follows. We need to target areas that have struggled. There are some neighborhood districts that need the city to infuse resources that hopefully will act as a catalyst.

What would you specifically point to as differences between your vision and Mayor Heartwell’s?

Some of our priorities will be similar because we both want a vibrant city with a strong economy, with neighborhoods rich in diversity and strong neighborhoods. I think my leadership style is different than Mayor Heartwell’s. I like being involved with local issues and being a part of implementation and making sure things move forward. I anticipate, especially my first year, a lot of time is going to be spent building relationships, listening, establishing a foundation for my four-year term. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Mayor Heartwell. I feel like I need to have a better understanding of the scope of the work I’m looking at as mayor versus as a city commissioner.

What city rules or regulations could be changed to make Grand Rapids a better place to do business?

Take inspections, for instance. If you’re a developer and you’re struggling with getting your inspections done, or you’re getting five mixed messages from different inspectors, we need to know about it and we need a mechanism in place so people can provide ongoing feedback. Then we need a system in place to improve the process based on that feedback. To me, it’s all about program improvement and a commitment to quality improvement. But if you don’t have a structure to analyze what the problems are and come up with a solution, you’re not going to get there.
Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. 

Read 3147 times Last modified on Tuesday, 18 August 2015 16:37

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