The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will address the challenges in attracting and retaining talent in the region, including the racial disparity in the engineering field, at the first in a series of events designed to engage the community in critical business issues.

The Chamber’s “Summit Up!” series begins April 12 with a half-day Talent Summit, which will include 16 speakers presenting on a range of topics relating to the issues of talent. A “Small Business Summit” and “Health Care Summit” are on the docket for May and June, respectively.

GRACC President and CEO Rick Baker said the Summit Up! series was born from a desire to better provide chamber members with programming that relates to issues they are facing in the everyday operations of running a business. The region’s talent drought has been marked as a key obstacle to growth.

“I can’t go anywhere without people telling me they’re having trouble filling vacancies,” Baker said. “We’re hoping to expose the attendees to a couple different things. We wanted to show some best practices that colleagues are using that they might consider deploying with the current growing economy and the war for talent, but we also want to engage them with some organizations at the state level that may be a resource or partner for them in solving some of their talent problems.”

The keynote speaker for the event is Irving McPhail, president and CEO of the National Council for Minorities in Engineering. McPhail said he will speak on improving diversity in STEM education, specifically on how bridging education in the context of inclusion can improve the outlook for regions driven by the manufacturing industry.

“By addressing the issue, you’re helping to ensure competitiveness on the part of businesses, people and organizations in the area with a keen eye on this market,” McPhail said. “I really am going to be telling a quintessential story anchored in the importance of diversity and inclusion in business development.”

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