The population of Grand Rapids is booming. What is the secret sauce?

Chelsea Keeton is senior director of marketing and public relations for pharmaceutical company Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing, just west of downtown Grand Rapids.

GRAM recruited her from the east side of the state in 2019 — she’s from Northville and her husband is from Ann Arbor. Jill Quillen, GRAM’s senior director of human resources, said the company has hired about 10% of its 360 employees from outside West Michigan.

Keeton said the opportunity to work in the fast-growing life sciences industry was just one part of his family’s decision to move to Ada, a Grand Rapids suburb of about 14,000. which increased by 9.5% compared to 2010-20.

She and her husband were drawn to the city’s proximity to Lake Michigan and “Up North”; downtown Grand Rapids; the abundance of good suburban schools; and a healthy job market that meant that if her husband, a remote worker, needed to change jobs, he could.

Another factor was the price of housing, which Keeton said was more affordable in western Michigan than in southeast Michigan in 2019.

“Then it was just a matter of asking different people that we knew (lived here), and everyone loved it,” Keeton said. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else. We are very happy here.”

Rachel Gray is the executive director of Hello West Michigan, a nonprofit talent attraction organization that is an affiliate of economic development organization The Right Place.

Originally from Genesee County, Gray stayed in Grand Rapids after graduating from Aquinas College. She joined Hello West Michigan as a program manager in 2013.

Gray said Keeton’s experience was like that of many transplant recipients in West Michigan who come to seek employment and are pleasantly surprised by the cost of living, the diversity of the economy, the natural amenities, arts and culture and easy driving distance to other attractions.

“I definitely hear about accessibility and geography,” she said.

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