• West Michigan Area Chambers of Commerce Set Strategy to Enhance Cultural Competence Throughout the Region

Strategies for a Culturally Competent RegionThe West Michigan Chamber Coalition (WMCC) has released a commissioned report, “Strategies for a Culturally Competent Region,” outlining a plan of action for the West Michigan community to support and enhance diversity and cultural competency throughout the region.  The report states that:

It is not a question of whether it would be nice or the right thing to do.  West Michigan must continue to mature and broaden its view and its acceptance of businesses, workers and residents of all types.  It is critical for the very survival of West Michigan – for our economy, our quality of life, and our continued success as a region. 

The report is the culmination of a series of focus groups in which participants were asked to explain their understanding of cultural competence and their views on the current state of cultural competence in West Michigan.  The report conclude with specific recommendations to businesses, individuals, government, educators, and faith communities on how to expand our cultural competency.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CULTURAL COMPETENCY TO MICHIGAN’S ECONOMIC FUTURE

The report was prompted by a 2006 report issued by Michigan Future, Inc., a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization funded primarily by Michigan foundations to be the source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed in the Information Age.  The report, “A New Agenda for a New Michigan,” concluded that the first strategy is to “build a culture aligned with the flat world.”  The report says that “[i]n a world where economic growth is driven by knowledge and innovation, the most successful regions will be those which highly value: learning . . . an entrepreneurial spirit . . . [and] being welcoming to all.”   The report noted that:

The places that do the best in attracting talent from anywhere on the planet win. As Forbes magazine’s Rick Karlgaard noted, where smart people choose to live, robust economic activity will follow.

Regions need to embrace everyone. We need to be welcoming to immigrants, people from all religions, races, and ethnic groups and varied lifestyles. Leading-edge metropolitan areas are a tapestry of people from all backgrounds. Tolerant attitudes and great diversity characterize successful regions across the country.

The report continues:

We need to develop a culture that unambiguously celebrates diversity and nurtures tolerance. This means both building a culture that condemns rather than tolerates discrimination and segregation, as well as welcoming, with open arms, talented people from outside Michigan.

Leading an economic growth agenda with an emphasis on culture is just as new to us as it probably is to you. It is not where we expected to end up when we began this project. So all of us together will have to learn how communities can change culture.

THE RESPONSE OF THE WMCC 

The joint board of directors of the WMCC, which is a coalition of the Chambers of Commerce from Holland, Grand Rapids Grand Haven/Ferrysburg/Spring Lake and Muskegon, studied and endorsed the report and determined that the WMCC’s major priority for 2007 would be to develop a plan to address the cultural competency of West Michigan.

The WMCC’s “Strategies for a Culturally Competent Region” found that there is work to do for the area to become more culturally competent:

West Michigan is well known and accepted as being beautiful, conservative, and family oriented.  Many of its communities have a comfortable, smalltown feel. However, members of minority communities describe the region as being “nice” but not welcoming, and socially “cliquish”. Increased exposure of new ideas, arts, business innovations and visitors can enhance a small town’s atmosphere and enrich the lives of its citizens. If accepted with an educated, openminded perspective, diversity does not have to threaten the order and security of a community. A sincere and welcoming community will, by definition, work to minimize the isolation that may be felt by newcomers, whether their persons of color or single individuals who are trying to find their way in a family oriented environment.

The WMCC report then lists specific things that it says are the responsibilities of  communities, employers and businesses, units of government, school systems, the faith community, and individuals in West Michigan.  For employers and businesses, these include:

a)   Employers should encourage and require employees to improve their cultural competence awareness and activism. They should allow employee absences and provide funds for education (Institutes for Healing Racism, e.g.).

b)   Employers should promote and support efforts to develop inclusive study or social groups.  

c)   Employers should continue and expand their sponsorship of educational programs.

d)   Business leaders should act as mentors to others, in order to set the example of supporting attendance at educational programs.

e)   Businesses should be aware of, support, and articulate the business case for cultural competence.

f)    In order to maximize recruitment and retention, and minimize counterproductive turnover, businesses must be intentional about diversifying their workforces and supporting community efforts toward cultural competence.

g)   Employers should provide employee education to internalize the concept of cultural competence and to promote harmony and positive working conditions.

h)   Businesses should ensure that their marketing strategies and their product and service lines represent and appeal to a diverse audience and do not neglect any group in the community.

i)    Communications and training programs on development of Supplier Diversity programs should be created and implemented at businesses throughout the region.

WMCC STRATEGIES FOR 2008

In response to the report, the West Michigan Chambers have adopted three strategies for 2008.  The first is to establish a WMCC Diversity Advisory Council made up of persons from government, business, schools, and the faith community.  The Diversity Advisory Council will work to shape and promote the business case for cultural competency in West Michigan and to drive and monitor progress.   The second strategy is for the Chamber to engage with diverse communities to enhance communication, knowledge and trust.  The final strategy is to establish a Multiracial Association of Professionals within in each of the West Michigan Chambers to create a strong network of professionals of all races to help employers welcome, retain and connect professionals of color and their families to their community and the region.