Moms Weigh in On What it was like to Move to Grand Rapids – And Why They Made the Move

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Families are Moving to Grand Rapids at a Rising Rate

It’s no secret that the population in West Michigan has been growing at an impressive rate over the past several years, and experts predict that the growth isn’t going to stop any time soon. In fact, according to one study, Rockford, East Grand Rapids, Portage, Kentwood, and Walker have seen some of the most population growth in 2018. That means more and more, our neighbors aren’t native to West Michigan, and many more aren’t even native to Michigan at all.

I am a transplant originally from the Philadelphia metro area and I’ve experienced the learning curve of adapting to life in the West Mitten.

“Was this everyone else’s experience?” I’ve wondered. “Did anyone else struggle to make friends or figure out this Michigan Left turn?”

I interviewed 6 other women new to Grand Rapids to get their take life in GR and found out that no, I’m not crazy – it really is hard to make friends in Grand Rapids. It’s also hard to put an “s” on the end of Meijer so you can sound like a local and learn how to drive to said Meijer in the middle of Lake Effect snow.  

I also learned from these women that it’s really easy to fall in love with West Michigan.

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Newcomers Love Grand Rapids for Many Reasons

Nearly every woman I spoke to agrees that making the move to West Michigan was a fantastic decision for their family.

GRKids Reader Katie H
Katie Hoekstra – Belmont

“I could go on and on! Our quality of life is so much better here.” raves Katie Hoekstra.

A native of Mississippi, Katie and her family were in Chicago before they made the move to Grand Rapids. Katie loves the educational opportunities in West Michigan, the shorter commutes and the affordable cost of living they’ve found in West Michigan. 

“We also are thrilled with all of the development that has come to GR in the last several years. The cultural opportunities, entertainment scene, dining experiences, breweries and shopping have us feeling like we are still in Chicago – just smaller, less expensive and easier to navigate.”

There’s also reason why Forbes designated Grand Rapids as the Number 1 on their Best City to Raise a Family List and many of the transplants are learning firsthand how true it is. An easily accessible downtown, nearby natural areas and parks, resources like KDL and other local libraries, as well as GRKIDS (#humblebrag), and a wide variety of museums and attractions, Grand Rapids has got it going on. 

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The Number 1 Reason People are Moving to GR: JOBS

With all these great things going for Grand Rapids, what is bringing all of us transplants to West Michigan? Careers. Everyone we spoke to essentially linked their reason for making the move to their family’s work situation.

Whether it was being transferred, more hiring opportunities, or access to education to advance careers, work is the underlying force bringing so many new folks to the area. Metro Grand Rapids, comprised of Kent, Ottawa, Montcalm, and Barry counties have added more than 100,000 new jobs over the past decade (a whopping 25% growth).

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Big Growth can Mean Big Surprises

This type of growth is phenomenal and makes living in West Michigan an exciting time, but it does however lead to some frustrating situations.

Many of the women I spoke with were surprised at how hard they had to work to find a daycare, as the demand for it continues to rise faster than providers can accommodate. 

“We didn’t expect [the waitlist times at daycares] to be close to what we were quoted in Chicago!” says Katie. 

Who would have thought?

GRKids Reader Theresa A
Theresa Abel – Cascade Twp

And finding a house? Be prepared to act fast. While housing prices are still less than the national average, the demand is still high. 

“The real estate market is quick-moving, so be prepared to make choices quickly,” advises Theresa Abel, who moved to Cascade Township from Chicago. 

Grand Rapids Has its own Unique Culture

Have you noticed it, too? Even the culture of the metro areas within Michigan are different. Hang out with people in Lansing or Detroit and you’ll see what I mean. We all have that wonderful Midwest spirit, but with tweaks. So whether you move to Grand Rapids from another place in Michigan, or from a different state, there’s a learning curve. 

Aside from the traffic patterns and local terminology (You Betcha!), the big cultural change that new people face is how to make connections.

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Grand Rapids, You Make it Tough for New People to Make Friends

The tech titans have yet to produce a suitable answer to, “Alexa, find me a best friend, preferably in a 3-mile radius, with kids similar in age to mine, and who will understand all my subtle Gilmore Girl references.”

“It was hard to find many of ‘our people’ at first, compared to other places we have lived,” shares Alana Placzkowsi, who moved from Washington DC to East Grand Rapids.

GRKids Reader Alana
Alana Placzkowsi – East Grand Rapids

“People are welcoming and friendly, but there isn’t a culture of transience here. Folks have their families  . . .  and often the people [and] routines they grew up with.”

 That “culture of transience” she mentions is vastly lacking in West Michigan. All of my personal moves around the United States (except my last big one here to Grand Rapids) were always to military communities.

In those communities, transplants and locals alike knew there was a ticking clock on building relations and fostering community.

There was no time to just politely say vague things like “We should grab a cup of coffee sometime” but rather they would say, “I’m free on Friday morning. Can I take you one of my favorite coffee spots in town?”

Jen Cassel bio pic
Jen Cassel

Making friends as a mom, especially when you’re managing the under 5 crowd is already a daunting prospect. When you add in also being the new kid in town, but no one realizes you are the new kid in town, it can seem impossible.

GRKIDS writer Jen Cassel returned to West Michigan after living in Florida and has this advice for other new locals:

“Reach out often. People in general are not great at responding anymore. In Michigan, it seems more difficult to connect to people. You have to make some serious effort.”

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Welcome to West Michigan

While we may still get a little flustered when an intersection requires a Michigan Left, continue to use words like soda, sneakers, and butcher the names of such places like Ypsilanti, Okemos, and Milan, we are head over heels in love with America’s High Five and we are proud that we can call it home.

GRKids Reader Melissa R
Melissa Rousseau – Hudsonville

Are you new the West Michigan area? GRKIDS reader Melissa Rousseau, who moved to Hudsonville from Saginaw, has one last piece of advice for you:

“Get out and experience the whole city. Do a few crazy things, absorb other cultures, try things out even if you’re not sure if it’s going to be crazy or successful or a waste of your time. Just get out there and try it all.

“I’ve had so many of my native Grand Rapids friends tell me that I know more about their city than they know just because I’ve intentionally gone out and planned so many different adventures with my kids and have tried out so many new things. I frequently give them advice now on where to go for fun!

“My secret? I read grkids.com on at least a monthly basis and plan out my adventures for the month!”

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