A Good Place for All of Us

Posted in Blog on March 26, 2019

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All in all, Ottawa County is a good place. The County government does an excellent job of providing high-quality, public services. The County has been recognized for its financial health with triple-A credit ratings from both Moody’s and Fitch, underscored by its levy of the fifth lowest tax rate among Michigan’s 83 counties. Ottawa County is also known for being swift to identify and remove obstacles to future prosperity, long before they become manifest. Examples include the groundwater crisis, affordable housing, economic development, talent supply, transportation and most recently, diversity. 

As Ottawa County Administrator, I became involved in the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance CEO Advisory Committee. In that role, I learned of a serious concern that many of the area’s largest employers had regarding issues of diversity:  Ottawa County was a warm and welcoming place for those who resembled the “cultural norm.” Those who did not, were apt to leave their positions in the companies after short stints. These same employers emphasized that a pipeline to global talent was a critical factor for future success. Problems retaining diverse talent were significant enough for these businesses to caution that future investment decisions in West Michigan were at risk. 

 In 2012, Ottawa County launched the Cultural Intelligence Initiative. A committee was developed that worked to provide staff training, hold an annual educational forum plus do service work in the community. The County also adopted “Where You Belong” as its tagline and vision. After several years working on diversity through the workplace committee, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners established the new Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Office. The office will consist of a full-time Director and a support position and is expected to be operational in April, 2019. One of the early initiatives will be to build templates for identifying and eliminating implicit bias in policies, procedures, practices and service delivery. The position will also work closely with local units of government, many of which have already expressed interest in a new partnership.

It is essential for Ottawa County to join other sectors in diversity, equity, and inclusion work so that we can be a welcoming County to all going forward.  To adapt a quotation of President Theodore Roosevelt the County asserts:  Ottawa County will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.

By: Al Vanderberg, Ottawa County Administrator 

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