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Published in Economic Development
Biz groups react to Ottawa Impact’s elimination of county DEI office COURTESY PHOTO

Biz groups react to Ottawa Impact’s elimination of county DEI office

BY Thursday, January 12, 2023 02:45pm

Ottawa County employers and business advocates have expressed growing discontent since a new slate of commissioners voted on Jan. 3 to abolish the county’s diversity, equity and inclusion department.

Their concerns center on the ability to attract talent in an environment where diversity is outwardly chided by elected officials. 

As well, others fear whether the insular trajectory of the new board jeopardizes Ottawa County’s position as a tourism destination. The board during its first meeting also changed the county motto from “Where you belong” to “Where freedom rings.”  

“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are central to our corporate values at MillerKnoll,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “As one of the largest employers in Ottawa County, we count on our local leaders to advocate for a diverse, inclusive, and prosperous environment where our current and future employees and their families feel like they belong.”

While many had expected the Ottawa Impact commissioners to target the county’s DEI office, some county board members said they were “blindsided” when the group also abruptly replaced county Administrator John Shay with former Trump administration official John Gibbs. The board also swiftly moved to hire conservative Lansing-based law firm Kallman Legal Group as its corporate counsel and replace its public health director.

Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jodi Owczarski noted that Ottawa County has been among the fastest growing counties in Michigan over the past decade.

“Our favorable business climate played a role in this growth, which was driven in large part by Ottawa County being an attractive and welcoming community for all. And we can’t afford for this to change,” Owczarski said. “Fair and transparent processes are fundamental to effective governance. The abrupt and unexpected actions taken by the Board of Commissioners at their meeting on Jan. 3, 2023 are concerning and will undoubtedly have an impact on our business community.”

Kevin Stotts, CEO of TalentFirst Inc., an alliance of company executives from a 13-county region in West Michigan, said that the organization’s member CEOs “have been clear about their support for Diversity & Inclusion as a critical component of making West Michigan a top region for talent.”

“Nearly 100 of them — including some of the biggest employers in Ottawa County — have publicly pledged their commitment to making their organizations more inclusive and to be champions for diversity. It is why we supported the county when it established the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office,” Stotts said via email. “These leaders understand why we must attract, develop, promote, and retain diverse talent. These employers are a significant reason Ottawa County is the thriving place it is today.

“Whatever happens with county decisions going forward, TalentFirst will continue to support these employers in their efforts to create a welcoming place for all.”

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