City Spotlight – Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids is a beautiful, bustling destination for working families, retirees, young adults, and vacationers that offers a wide array of world-renown art exhibits, sprawling golf courses and recreation centers, farm-to-table restaurants and breweries. The city is Michigan’s second largest city, serving as business headquarters to many multinational companies including Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth, Alticor, Meijer, and Zondervan.
Weather and Climate
Grand Rapid’s climate is humid continental, meaning that seasonal temperatures vary widely and precipitation is spread fairly evenly throughout the year, with warm, humid summers, cold, snowy winters, and short, mild springs and falls. The nearby Lake Michigan gives the city some maritime weather, such as a cloudy late fall and winter, delayed heating in the spring, delayed cooling in the fall, and heavy lake effect snow. An average of 75.6 inches of snow falls on the city every year, making it one of the snowiest cities in the nation!
Weather during the months of March, April, October, and November can vary widely, with March alone having a record high of 87°F and a record low of -8°F. Summers frequently have heat waves or other severe weather. The city itself is in agricultural hardiness zone 6a, with surrounding areas in zone 5b. The city has a growing season of 162 days, with the typical last frost day on May 1 and the first frost on October 11. The average high temperature is 82.8°F in July, and the average low temperature is 18.1°F in January.
The city’s famous annual three-day Festival of the Arts is held on the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of June. The Festival features food booths, stages for performances, art exhibitions, and hands-on demonstrations. The Festival is the largest all-volunteer arts festival in the nation, and is held in Vandenberg Plaza, known informally as Calder Plaza thanks to the Calder sculpture. Vandenberg Plaza also plays host to several ethnic festivals throughout the summer.
In October, residents and visitors can celebrate Polish culture with the city’s Pulaski Days on the first full weekend in October, hosted by the city’s Polish Halls.
If music is more your style, families can enjoy the Schubert Male Chorus of Grand Rapids which promotes music education and entertainment through Glee Club singing. They host over 400 performances each year and 16 music education programs and the Grand Rapids Barbershop Chapter Great Lakes Chorus, an all male chorus of the Barbershop Harmony Society established in 1947.
The Grand Rapids Ballet Company, Michigan’s only professional ballet company, includes more than 30 professional dancers and performs at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre, in the heart of Grand Rapids. The Ballet School is a nationally-recognized premier school for training in classical ballet, offering instruction as early as age three. The School’s Junior Company provides students with the opportunity to establish and perform in their own productions, working with other students and professional dancers in the community.
The John Ball Zoological Garden is located on the western side of Grand Rapids, and plays an active role in animal conservation and education in the mid-west. Current exhibits include a collection of Crawford Tigers, the Van Andel Living Shores Aquarium, a collection of tropical reptiles and amphibians, Pelican Pier, and Red’s Hobby Farm featuring birds and domestic animals. The zoo takes about three hours to explore, but if you can try to come early in the day as the animals tend to be most active and visitor attendance tends to be lowest before noon.
And although Grand Rapids does not host its own major league professional teams, the city sponsors a broad range of affiliate teams and minor league groups, including the Grand Rapid Drive – an NBA Development League affiliate of the Detroit Pistons; the Grand Rapids Minor League Soccer Team; the West Michigan Whitecaps, a Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers; and the Grand Rapids Griffins, a minor-league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. The city also hosts one of the world’s premier Fifth Third River Bank Run, the nation’s largest 25K-road race which draws thousands of top runners every May.
The city is home to the first work of public arts funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in the nation, the sculpture La Grande Vitesse, designed by Alexander Calder and installed in 1969 downtown in Vandenberg Plaza. The sculpture, informally called “the Calder,” is considered a symbol of Grand Rapids.
History buffs will find a lot to hold their interest in Grand Rapids, starting with Native American burial mounds that include artifacts of the Hopewell tribes from 2,000 years ago. Michigan is also home to more lighthouses than any other U.S. state, and many of those line the banks of Lake Michigan, only a short drive from the city. The history of the area also celebrates the contribution of Dutch immigrants, who came to the region in the early 19th century, including a Tulip Time festival in May, wooden shoe factory, and a 250 year-old working Dutch windmill and replica of a 14th-century wayside inn at the Windmill Island Gardens.
If museums are more your thing, Grand Rapids hosts a significant number of permanent collections, temporary exhibits, events and educational programs. One of the most popular is Grand Rapids Public Museum, which offers free admission to children who are residents of Kent County. The museum includes a beautiful, fully-operational 1928 carousel with 44 hand-carved and bejeweled horses, two chariots, and a giraffe, lion, deer, goat, tiger and camel. The second floor of the museum holds a 145-seat planetarium under a fifty-foot dome, offering a variety of shows year-round.
Art Prize is an open international art competition which takes place for nineteen days each fall in Grand Rapids. Any artist working in any medium from anywhere in the world can participate and more than five hundred thousand dollars in prizes are awarded each year. One very unique things about this competition is that art is exhibited throughout the downtown area, in museums, bars, restaurants, parks, movie theaters, laundromats, vacant offices, and even auto body shops. ArtPrize is open to the public, free to attend, and currently draws in over 500,000 visitors, making it the most popular public art event in the world in 2014 and 2015.
Grand Rapids has won a large number of food and beverage awards from USA Today, GQ Magazine, and the New York Magazine. In 2012 the city tied with Asheville, North Carolina for “Beer City USA” and had different locations named for “Best Burger,” “Best Tea,” and “Second Best Brewery in the World”. In 2013 Grand Rapids won “Beer City USA” due in part to its seven world-renowned beer companies and micro-breweries. And years before “farm to table” became a popular concept, many of Grand Rapid’s restaurants were purchasing their vegetables, fruits, dairy products and meats from local farmers. Located near Lake Michigan, the local climate supports the growth of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – in fact, Michigan produces a greater variety of fruits and vegetables than any state, second only to California!
Grand Rapids spends more per student and has a lower pupil-to-teacher ratio than the national average, especially when compared to other similarly sized cities. The city spends $16,410 per student on average, compared to the U.S. average of $12,383, and has 14.2 students per teacher, compared to the U.S. average of 16.8 students per teacher. The situation with counselors is worse than average, with Grand Rapids having 824.8 students per counselor versus the U.S. average of 403.2 students per counselor.
The city has an unemployment rate of 4.5%, compared to a national unemployment rate of 5.2%, and cost of living is 12.8% lower than the national average. Grand Rapids was once known as the Furniture Capital of America for its craftsman quality residential furniture and is still considered one of our country’s premier locations for the manufacture of office furniture. In addition to manufacturing, other leading industries in the region include industrial machinery, printing, graphic arts, tourism, food wholesalers, plastics, and food processors. There are also more than 50 foreign-owned firms in the county and many of the metropolitan area firms are involved in international trade. In 2017, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area was ranked #1 in job growth in the U.S. according to Headlight Data, driven in part by a 4.4% growth in total workforce over the previous year. Residents of Grand Rapids also enjoy a relatively low sales tax rate of 6% and income tax rate of 5.75%.
Grand Rapids has a crime rate of 7.3 violent crimes and 23.96 property crimes per 1,000 people per year, compared to a national average of 3.8 violent crimes and 26 property crimes per 1,000 people. Grand Rapids has an especially low murder rate compared to most major metropolitan areas, with only 0.05 murders per 1,000 residents, equal to the national rate. The City of Grand Rapids police department releases crime data to the public, broken down by neighborhood. Like in all cities, some of Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods are safer than others.
Like many big cities, Grand Rapids offers several options for getting from point to point in the area. The city’s residents experience an average commute time of 20 minutes, compared to the national average of 26 minutes. The Rapid is the region’s public bus system, covering 185 square miles with 28 fixed routes served by 140 buses, 77 vans and small buses, and 32 vans. Beyond its fixed routes, The Rapid also operates demand response services for people with disabilities, and for those living outside the fixed-route service area, and carpooling programs.
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