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Grand Rapids is the primary cultural and business hub of western Michigan. Nearby hardwood forests made the city a notable furniture-producing center in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That industry continues today but has transitioned somewhat towards high-tech office furniture, serving as headquarters for such names as Steelcase and Herman Miller. The area is far less vulnerable to the ups and downs of the auto industry than most of Michigan.
The surrounding area is agricultural and interesting. The tempering effect of Lake Michigan promotes a greater agricultural variety than otherwise found in many Midwestern locations, with berries, lettuce, flowers and such fruit trees as apple, peach, and cherry. Cultural and recreational amenities are above average with a strong performing arts component and abundant outdoor activities, including nearby beaches to the west.
In part because of the agricultural environment, the area was attractive to 19th century Dutch settlers, some of whom started large, successful businesses. The Meijer (groceries) and Van Andel and De Vos families (Amway, now known as Alticor) have left large endowments and a large imprint on the city – the Van Andel Museum Center, the Van Andel Arena, the De Vos Performance Hall, Meijer Gardens – to name a few. As a result, the city has an outstanding set of performing and visual arts amenities for a city its size, and good minor league sports and other entertainment in addition.
Downtown is clean and typically Midwestern and even slightly European in appearance where the Grand River flows through. West of the Grand lies an attractive redevelopment zone, home of the Van Andel Museum. Some areas of town, particularly south, remain gritty and industrial, but nice suburbs spread towards Hudsonville (southwest) Ada (more upscale and east) and west towards Wyoming offer a lot of choices. At 150 miles from Detroit and 175 miles from Chicago, the location is relatively isolated from big-city amenities and services. However, high incomes and low living costs make this area a good value for those who can take some dreary winter weather.
Grand Rapids is located in the Grand River Valley, with high hills rising on either side to 1,020 feet. Lake Michigan moderates the continental climate. In comparison to other Midwestern locations, springs are cooler and later while falls are longer and warmer. Summer days are pleasantly warm with about 3 weeks of hot, humid weather. Most summer nights are comfortable. Hardwood trees make for a colorful fall. Winters are very cloudy, with numerous snow flurries and strong westerly winds. Prolonged cold waves are infrequent, but below-zero temperatures and continuous snow cover are common. First freeze is early October, last is May 1.