Our Story

Vision. Insights. Solutions.

TalentFirst was founded in the wake of the Great Recession, at a time of economic uncertainty for West Michigan.

Low-skill jobs that once provided a ticket to the middle class were disappearing. Our education and skill levels were falling behind. And the region’s ability to attract and retain employers — and the prosperity they provide — was eroding. In fact, a 2010 study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research predicted that, without action, West Michigan would be further outpaced by peer regions over the next 15 years. 

Resolving to reverse this course, a group of 40 CEOs came together to form Talent 2025 (later renamed TalentFirst). Their influence and leadership allowed them to convene partners in education, workforce development, nonprofits and policy makers. 

These efforts have produced an extensive track record of reforms, systemic improvements, and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment improving the attraction, retention, and development efforts of West Michigan and the entire state.

Our Impact

In these examples and others, TalentFirst’s impact is made possible thanks to business leaders – CEOs, HR and DEI leaders – who invest their time, influence, problem solving skills, and financial resources with using a data and research-driven approach to solving the most pressing talent issues for West Michigan’s employers.

Investment and expansion of proven early childhood development programs, including expanded access to quality preschool for at-risk families. 

Improvements in K12 education, from promoting early literacy and increased funding for at-risk students to increasing opportunities for career exploration and increasing graduation rates. 

Dismantling barriers to labor force participation through reforms for second-chance hiring, expanded child-care access, improved transportation options and more. 

Improvements to postsecondary training and education rates of traditional and adult learners alike; leveraging policy changes for greater accountability across the system. 

Reforms to the state’s adult education system, which serves only a fraction of the need and leaves people on the employment sidelines. 

Creating an inclusive and welcoming culture for diverse talent, with resources for employers and CEOs who champion the cause. 

Helping employers navigate an increasingly disruptive talent market by sharing proven, data-based solutions, resources, and tools.