How Wyoming aims to strengthen its diverse and growing population
“Diversity is the norm now. Being in a place where that’s the direction it’s going, it feels like the right place to be,” says Wyoming resident and city council member Marissa Postler.
“You’ve got folks that have lived here for 60, 70 years. They’ve raised their family. [Their] kids came through school. Now their kids have moved away, [the parents are] still living here, and the house next to them is a first- or second-generation immigrant family. It’s an interesting dynamic happening where you see neighborhoods start to change,” says fellow resident Christopher Hall.
Less than 10 minutes from downtown Grand Rapids is the vibrant community of Wyoming. Also known as the City of Vision and Progress, residents and visitors will find five public school districts, over 20 parks, more than 1,800 commercial businesses, and a growing population. According to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, the city is home to over 75,000 individuals.
Raising his children as fifth-generation residents of the city, Hall has seen a lot throughout the years. Though he has lived and worked elsewhere, he has established roots within the community. He has family within a mile of his home and he is currently the pastor of Elevation church located off of Byron Center Avenue. “We’re very much rooted [here],” he says. Though not all of the residents have such a storied connection to the city, the sense of community remains strong.
“I’ve always kind of felt uniquely connected [to the city] because I chose to live in Wyoming,” says Postler. “I’ve met some of the greatest people in Wyoming. I definitely get a neighborhood feel.”
Having grown up in Wisconsin and moved to Michigan at the age of 18, Wyoming was appealing for several reasons.
“What drew me to it [was that] I really liked the amount of small, inexpensive homes. It’s a place where somebody might choose to start a family or live during college because it’s actually affordable, unlike some of the surrounding communities,” she says.
Postler describes the diversity within the community as a welcome change.
“I grew up in a rich, white suburb [and] I didn’t have an accurate worldview because of it,” she says. “Coming to Wyoming, and just being around different kinds of people, it was a breath of fresh air.”
Hall also feels that diversity sets Wyoming apart. “You can go from one end of the city to the other and see different types of people. Whether it be racially, socioeconomically, you’ve got the full spectrum of America, all in one little city,” he says.
Manufacturing is the most common employment industry for those living in the city, representing approximately 23% of workers. Looking around, the hard-working history of the community residents remains in his perspective. “I’d say the core of our city is very blue collar. That’s still here. Demographically, our city has changed but personally I like it better now than any other time in my life. I think it’s great.”
The face of business in the city
One of the 1,800+ businesses in the city is Management Business Solutions (MBS). After calling downtown Grand Rapids home for about 10 years, the MBS team decided that it was time to relocate. When looking for a new office, they wanted a location that was easy to access, could be easily marketed to passersby, had ample parking, and came with a rate that made sense. They found a new home on Buchanan, right off of 28th Street, and have been operating in Wyoming for almost three years.
“When we were downtown, we didn’t have that marketing ability. We were on the third floor of 77 Monroe,” says co-owner Amy Marshall. “Where our location is [now], we’re in close proximity to a residential [area] so we’re seeing a lot of traffic.”
MBS does not have any plans to leave the area and is actually expanding. “We look to stay here for years to come,” Marshall says. To that point, they have just announced the launch of a new business division, CROSSROADS, which is focused on providing career transition guidance to individuals as well as education to businesses and their staff.
In addition to professional service organizations such as MBS, Wyoming is home to numerous retail stores and restaurants.
“To me, the food choices in Wyoming are on a different level compared to a lot of the suburbs where your choices are [chain restaurants]. The level of diversity is what we have to thank for all the great restaurants,” says Postler.
“We have great diversity. I love it,” says Hall. He encourages fellow community members to “shop local and definitely support our local restaurants. They are really hurting right now.” He loves being able to enjoy and support local businesses such as TwoGuys Brewing, Lindo Mexico, and Lombardo’s Pizza. He reminds residents that the “mom and pop businesses” are usually the ones supporting the boosters, fundraisers, and other community needs at other times.
Having spent four years in Singapore while growing up, it was important to Marshall “that [her] children could grow up in a diverse community.” She and her husband “wanted to make sure that [their family] could explore different diversity in foods and be immersed in a community that is diverse.”
For them, that meant choosing to live in Wyoming. Additionally, MBS co-owner and founder, Floriza Genautis, lives in Wyoming as well. Marshall says the city is a “hidden gem,” sandwiched into between more expensive locations like Byron Center and Grandville. Whether she and her family are traveling 10 to 15 minutes into downtown Grand Rapids or 30 minutes out to the lakeshore, she appreciates the convenience.
“Everything is so close – the grocery store, the entertainment venues, things to do like the parks. I call it a hidden gem where all those things come together,” she says.
Dispelling myths and highlighting community change
“People often dismiss Wyoming as being a lower income, less nice place and frankly, that’s ridiculous … It’s almost like a few different cities glued together, which to me is what makes it cool,” says Postler.
Hall has heard people refer to the city as a crime-ridden, rundown area with poor schools. “I couldn’t tell you how wrong that is. It’s just not true,” he says. “We have probably the best infrastructure you’re going to find in west Michigan. We have great water. There’s a lot of good things going on here.”
Hall says one of the community’s many strengths is its schools. “They’re doing a heck of a lot with shrinking resources.”
Though Hall’s love of community and its history is clear, he is even more excited about what is to come. “As cool as it is to look at the past, which is interesting, I’m much more excited about the future and where we’re going.”
“As much as I’ve seen a lot of change happen, I think we have a long way to go. We do have a lot of diversity but it is largely segregated to certain parts of the city. Breaking that down is going to be an opportunity,” says Hall.
“I’m seeing as a city, we’re in transition,” he says. “[We’re] becoming more culturally diverse. There’s a place for everyone. There’s a seat at the table for everyone.”
As a whole, the community is composed of approximately 63% of individuals who identify as white alone and approximately 11% of residents were born outside of the United States. In addition to the changes at an individual level, development is continuing to occur within the community as a whole as well.
“A lot of Wyoming I see as a blank canvas. One of the other things that drew me to the council was seeing how many opportunities there were for growth and wanting to be a part of making sure that they go in the direction of the future,” Postler says.
As it relates to city planning, “being part of a Master Plan process, looking at the next 25, 50, 75 years, we get a chance to decide where we want to go,” says Hall.
“We know where we’ve been. We’re pretty built out but we do have the opportunity to look at different properties and say ‘Is there a different use for that? Is there a better use for that?’ I see a big opportunity for that. As much as possible to create inclusive communities. I think that’s a big opportunity that we have,” says Hall.
The importance of the census and a look ahead
In light of the happenings throughout the year so far, it may be easy to forget that the census is currently underway. Regardless of your location, completing the census is beneficial to all communities.
“Do your census,” says Postler. “It’s one of those things that you’ll sit down and do and you’ll feel so much better.” Besides the sense of accomplishment, individual participation in the census will be incredibly impactful to the city, especially now.
“People don’t seem to realize how many things are wrapped up in the census. Over the next 10 years, just getting one person counted, gets us $18,000 in funding for things like roads, schools, hospitals. Especially now with COVID, there’s so many additional strains on our funding,” Postler says. “There are grants that you can apply for to help alleviate some of that but, of course, they’re only going to give those to the communities with the highest need so we need to be able to demonstrate that and the census is a huge part of that.”
In addition to being a parent, Hall worked in the affordable housing sector for years with such organizations as Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) and Habitat For Humanity prior to founding his church in 2013. He sees the impact of the census through both of those lenses.
“If you’re not counted, then one of the first lines that’s hurt by that is our schools,” says Hall. “If your neighborhood is not being counted properly, then it might not be recognized through housing and urban development or any of the other agencies or entities that use that to distribute funds and resources. By getting it wrong, you’re going to lose.”
“Definitely be counted,” he says.
For Marshall, she hopes having an accurate picture of the city can create a ripple effect for further development in the community. She wants to “make sure people are counted so we can show how great Wyoming is!” From there, “we’ll be able to see the growth of the community, be able to get more people living here, and get more businesses here,” she says.
“I think one of the things that a lot of us have been hoping to see happen is that the leadership in our city and the institutions would reflect the rest of the greater city more. That means not just racially or socioeconomically, but I think geographically, [such as] seeing more representation from the north part of the city,” Hall says. “I look to the city council. I look to the school boards.”
Postler hopes that the growth continues as well. She also wants to “see the city become more representative of the people that live [here], which is a diverse group of people. I would like to see the growth be representative of the diversity.”
In looking ahead, Hall takes a moment to reflect on the past and thinks back on a quote from an article about his grandparents Wyoming-based fur shop. “I saw a quote from a newspaper when they were going out of business that [said] they [took] pride in adding beauty to the Wyoming community. I use that,” he says. “I think that’s a significant tradition to try to add beauty to our community.”
To complete the census online, visit the United States Census 2020 website.
About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 14 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management, and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.
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Photos by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.