Grand Rapids has seen a drastic transformation through the years. From once living in the shadows of larger cities across the United States, Grand Rapids is now known as Beer City, USA and has been ranked among the top cities to start a business and the fastest growing US economy in 2017. Not to mention being recognized as one of the hottest hipster markets in the country! So why are those plaid-clad bearded hipsters flocking this way all of a sudden? A driving force behind this is the work of local government and the involvement of the business community.
Outgoing First Ward Commissioner, Dave Shaffer, has served Grand Rapids since 2010. Alongside working for local government, Dave is also a Commercial Banker at Macatawa Bank, an involved volunteer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids, and a married father of four children – plus a dog!
Reflecting on his time in office, Shaffer sat down with the Grand Rapids Chamber to talk about his proudest moments, why the West Side is the best side, and why he believes the business community should be more involved in local issues.
Interview with Dave Shaffer
What motivated you to take on the huge commitment of City Commissioner in addition to your job at Macatawa Bank?
Being involved and making a difference in the world was ingrained in me at a young age from my parents. I always had a desire to change things and try to make things better. I first ran for office when I was 26 years old and lost. It was a close election. That experience made me ask myself, “How else can I get involved? What else do I need to know?”
Did coming from a business background help you as City Commissioner?
Absolutely! For starters, it helped me understand issues from a business perspective. When I was elected in 2010, the city was facing a $30 million budget deficit and needed to make changes. Coming from the private sector, particularly the finance world, ultimately helped work towards a 15% rate of savings and a 10% rainy day fund. Because serving as City Commissioner is part-time, it allows you to transfer that experience from your day job as relevant areas of expertise in work on behalf of the city.
What’s the best part of the job?
The best part of the job is getting things done. It can be something as small as getting a stop sign up at a four-way intersection to large initiatives such as creating a new parking lot downtown. Or it can be working to create a better environment, as we did on the West Side, to make room for new development to happen. Accomplishing progress is the best part of the job; knowing you helped someone and made a difference.
You always say “The West Side is the best side.” What do you like doing on the West Side?
The West Side has a lot of fun things to do! Making rounds to The Knickerbocker (New Holland Brewing), Long Road Distillers, and Mitten Brewing is an important part of the job! There’s also sledding and ice skating at Richmond Park, which are great activities to enjoy this time of year. In the summer, I take my kids to John Ball Zoo every other week. It’s the best side of town!
Do you think people in the business community should get more involved with government affairs and local issues?
We definitely need that voice. If you’re running a business, you’re mostly focusing on that particular business – growing revenue, and cutting expenditures. However, what we’ve seen in both the city and state level, is that ignorance of the issues and the environment around you can impact your business. It’s important to stay up-to-date and understand what’s going on, but also to share your voice, your experience, and how it’s impacting you – especially regarding decisions being made in government.
What advice would you give someone who is considering running for local government?
I would say to weigh all the costs. The job is a huge commitment and there will be long days where you’ll have to put in more hours at your day job because you just spent six hours at a meeting for the city. However, you’ll also gain a wealth of knowledge and experience outside the work that you have. Serving the city actually does create a better entrepreneur, if you own a business or a better employee, if you work for a business. Plus, we all live in this community, and we need people to give back and contribute their time. The ultimate time commitment is to serve for a term. We need competent and qualified people from all walks of life, but especially from the business perspective.
Macatawa Bank is a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber. What value do you see in it as a Commercial Banker?
First off, the Chamber creates key networking opportunities for our employees. It also offers educational opportunities, which can help you if you need to get up to speed in one area or another. Plus, you have a team of lobbyists you know is ready to advocate for you!
What’s next for you?
I will continue to stay involved. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities and ways to serve that don’t carry the same time commitment. For me, that means being involved in city boards, county boards, and nonprofit boards. I think 38 years old is a bit young to retire *laughs*, so you may see me again down the line, it’s a good fit. Right now, I’m taking a step back to evaluate.
If you could have dinner with anyone (fictional or real), who would it be and why?
I would have dinner with Bono. And yes, I would wear the shades. I’ve always been a huge U2 fan and, since he takes on causes and has a good political bend to him, I think we would get along well.