MillerKnoll Supplier Champions Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging via the “49507 Project”

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern business, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging have become essential pillars of success. Companies that embrace these values not only foster a more inclusive work environment but also reap the benefits of uniquely innovative outcomes and enhanced business results.

We are excited to shine a spotlight during this Black History Month on one such exceptional partner who is putting their values into action to benefit a historically underserved community in West Michigan.

Jireh Metal Products, Inc., a current supplier of MillerKnoll, is a dynamic, certified minority-owned manufacturer of metal products and assemblies. Michael Davenport, President & CEO of Jireh, sat down with us to share how Jireh is innovating its business strategy to accelerate its bottom line while also supporting an under-resourced community via the “49507 Project” – supporting those in the 49507 zip code of Grand Rapids, MI.

Graphic depictions of an outside view of the 49507 Project site.

The 49507 Project is a workforce development partnership between Jireh Metal Products, Inc. and Mel Trotter Ministries, a non-profit organization at the forefront of battling homelessness in West Michigan. A portion of the new 15,000-square-foot manufacturing facility will be leased to Jireh Metal Products which will create jobs in an area that has been historically overlooked. Employees at the new facility will have access to a mentoring, coaching, and training program as a result of the partnership.

This partnership is supported by a recent federal grant awarded to Mel Trotter Ministries from the Department of Health and Human Services. It will foster the creation of 32 full-time jobs as well as new metal fabrication equipment at a new manufacturing training center located in the 49507 zip code on the campus of Next Step of West Michigan, a subsidiary of Mel Trotter Ministries.

Michael Davenport shared more details about this work and its impact on the community he was raised in:

Michael Davenport, President & CEO of Jireh Metal Products, Inc.

How did this opportunity come to be?

The idea for this project started three years ago over a conversation with the City Commissioner of Grand Rapids, Joe Jones. He informed me of the dismal unemployment rates for Black and Brown families to which I immediately replied, “Let’s do something about this. Let’s bring jobs here.”

At the time, I was just getting familiar with being the owner and CEO of Jireh. I was very passionate about the idea that a business should make a difference in their surrounding communities and that a difference could be made through intentionality, while still making good business sense.

The introduction to Mel Trotter was made ironically at a Planet Fitness Gym. I happened to be exercising and by chance met a member of their board whom I shared some of the details of the conversation I had with the city commissioner. Shortly thereafter, we met for lunch, and he introduced me to Michele McIsaac, Chief Strategy Officer for Mel Trotter and the rest is history.

In recent local media, you mentioned the concept of “the multiplier effect”. Would you explain more of your perspective on what this means for the 49507 project?

I am a person who believes in teams. My life has always been about teams. I played basketball in college, coached at West Point as well as Xavier University and I’ve worked with kids on teams within the community. I’ve realized that together, we are better. Businesses must spend money to operate, but if there are increased partnerships and intentionality behind spending, they could solve a problem where the impact is multiplied. One plus one would no longer equal two. One plus one would equal three, maybe even four. This project in the 49507 area offers an opportunity for increased impact through thoughtful partnership and collaboration.

How do partnerships such as the one you've established with Mel Trotter and Next Step align with the values of Jireh Metal Products?

A lot of this work comes down to a heart issue. Most problems are solved because it’s a matter of concern to someone – a heart issue. You see an opportunity and somehow, you’re drawn to that. I believe bringing people together to meld our hearts and passions radically increases our ability to reach mutually beneficial results.

I have a passion for job creation because it changes lives. Having a solid employer, that pays fairly, is consistent, and cares about its people creates foundation in a person’s life. We encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work, as we know there will be other areas of their lives that they’ll need support in, and we have great partners in place to assist. Mel Trotter and Next Steps will walk beside them to make sure that they have the supportive services that are necessary for them to be successful.

In this partnership, we all share the same will, desire, heart, and intent to bring positive change to the 49507 community. We want the people who come through this facility to make a difference for their families and have better life outcomes.

Lastly, how can anyone interested in supporting this project engage?

Ultimately, if we’re going to employ people, we need work for them to do. If we can get support from the business community in terms of increased business opportunities, that would be most helpful. This will require an increase in intentionality from other companies, and encouragement to try a new approach to their business. We intend to maintain market competitiveness and flexibility. While we understand how we’d like to see this project turn out, we’re still very open to new and creative partnerships and ideas.

What we’re trying to accomplish at the end of this is creating opportunities for individuals who otherwise might not have had them, with the hope that they’ll go on to flourish in the community and we’ll rinse and repeat the process once they’ve moved on to bigger and better things. This is good business. It's a two-fer – we're a for-profit company with principles and values that we’re able to bring into the community in an impactful way. We’re trying to do good business while doing good for society.

The new manufacturing facility in the process of construction.

MillerKnoll is proud of its partnership with companies like Jireh Metal Products, Inc. who not only share similar corporate values but put them into action and inspire positive change within the industry and ultimately impact business. MillerKnoll has taken steps to support Jireh’s new initiative through Michael Davenport presenting to MillerKnoll’s Global Supply Management leadership team, his collaboration with the Supplier Diversity team, and has plans to develop a more structured process where we can collaborate and enable Jireh to grow their business as they focus on leveraging workforce development and equipping a valuable labor force for West Michigan.

MillerKnoll’s Supplier Diversity Program Mission

Identify, grow, and expand our diverse supplier network through strategic initiatives and processes that ensure diverse business participation in an open, fair, and inclusive environment.

Learn more about MillerKnoll’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging actions and priorities here.