“Grand Rapids is a vibrant community with a lot of activity and growth,” Sundstrom said. “Unfortunately, with the economy of the state of Michigan, many families have lost their jobs and homes and it is my responsibility to manage the city to change that.”
Born in Spokane, Washington, Sundstrom moved to Michigan when he was very young. After graduating from Jenison High School, Sundstrom attended the University of Michigan. Due to working full time to put himself though school, Sundstrom struggled and chose to transfer to Grand Valley State University.
“I wanted to go into local government and U-M did not have the program that I wanted,” Sundstrom said. “I chose Grand Valley because they had one of the best public administration programs.”
Even before he graduated Sundstrom was gaining experience in the field. He worked as a seasonal employee in the city's Streets and Sanitation department as well as the Information Technology department. Sundstrom also worked as a consultant for the city, working on various projects such as the city's GIS system, which formed the basis for Grand Rapids' geographic information mapping system and emergency response 9-1-1 system.
After graduating from Grand with a bachelor's degree in public administration in 1983, Sundstrom continued his work for the city and, in 1986, he was hired as a full-time employee for the Streets and Sanitation Department. Seven years later, Sundstrom was transferred to the executive department and held positions there until he was named city manager.
More than 1,500 employees report to Sundstrom, who reports to the City Commission. He is responsible for the city's day-to-day operations, including producing a recommended fiscal plan, hiring and firing all city employees, and managing the city's financial affairs. While this position has many difficult challenges, Sundstrom remains positive about the future of Grand Rapids.
“We could be forced to layoff police and fire officers, close parks and pools, and raise taxes to meet our budget,” Sundstrom said. “Instead, I feel it is important to reshape ourselves so we can continue to be the same vibrant community to help citizens and provide jobs.”
Sundstrom believes that Grand Rapids has many important assets that will help the city to thrive in a financial crisis. He said one of those assets is Grand Valley and the many students that are giving back to the community in a variety of ways.
“Grand Valley has changed a lot since I attended, but it is one of the premiere colleges in Michigan,” Sundstrom said. “We are very fortunate to have Grand Valley State University as part of the Grand Rapids community.”