Grand Rapids Business Journal 03.07.22

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MRLA forms hospitality industry training school.


MARCH 7, 2022 VOL. 40 NO. 5

The Business Newspaper of Metro Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon & West Michigan


Consultant works to make a more inclusive economy for all. Page 9

Innovation Center

Center will provide practical smart manufacturing training for small to mid-sized manufacturers. Rachel Watson

New strategy Grand Valley State University embarks on a plan to enhance educational offerings by 2025. PAGE 3

Taking advantage Lakeshore survey finds businesses are economically strong and expect continued growth. PAGE 3

HIGH SCORE WMSC impact study shows sports tourism pumped $55.5M into the local economy last year. Page 12


The area’s top labor and employment law firms. Page 4 The area’s top family law firms. Page 5

Walker-based industrial technology and electrical services firm Feyen Zylstra (FZ) has received funding to create a center that will accelerate the development and adoption of smart manufacturing principles at small to medium-sized businesses. FZ recently was chosen by the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Institute (CESMII) to create a Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center with $250,000

Feyen Zylstra will be home to a center that accelerates the development and adoption of smart manufacturing principles. Courtesy Feyen Zylatra

in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. CESMII exists to “rapidly accelerate the development and adoption of smart manufacturing principles to drive sustainable manufacturing efficiencies,

improve energy consumption and achieve real-time business improvements.” Because of their shared focus on raising awareness around smart manufacturing and developing the next generation of the

workforce, FZ said CESMII is an ideal partner. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, CESMII is a network dedicated to driving CONTINUED ON PAGE 10

Hello West Michigan launches Rapid Roots Cohort-style program will aim to acclimate executives relocating to the region. Rachel Watson

The talent attraction agency Hello West Michigan is launching a program that will help accelerate incoming executives’ assimilation into the community. At Hello West Michigan’s 2022 annual meeting on Feb. 16, Executive Director Rachel Gray announced the organization’s newest program offering, Rapids Roots: An Executive’s Guided Co-

hort to Living in West Michigan, which will give executive-level transplants an experiential introduction to West Michigan and help them build friendships. The pilot cohort of 12 participants will launch March 24. Spread over six sessions to be held every other week, Rapid Roots will explore multiple topics and communities, and the program will show cohort members the area’s hidden gems rather than just telling them about them. Gray Participants

will be introduced to multiple organizations through a diverse slate of speakers, learn about the region’s chief industries, gain strategies for making personal connections, and be connected to family-friendly activities and outlets for their hobbies. The six sessions are as follows: •History of West Michigan •The Arts of West Michigan •The West Michigan Economy •Making Connections in West Michigan •Outdoor Recreation in West Michigan •Food, Dining & Nightlife in West Michigan Although the application period for the first group has closed, Hello West Michigan plans to offer another cohort in the fall. Peo-

GRBJ.COM Vol. 40, No.5 $3.00 a copy. $59 a year © Entire contents copyright 2022by Gemini Media. All rights reserved.

Inside Track ....... 9 Guest Columns.. 14 College and COVID Change-Ups ......20

OTTAWA County looks to prevent loss of farmland.

Calendar ...........20 Public Record .... 21 Street Talk ...... 22


ple can learn more and sign up for information on the next round of Rapid Roots at Gray said Hello West Michigan has had an offering like Rapid Roots in mind for a while, as its member companies often contact the organization looking for ways to plug their new leaders into the city. “We wanted to look at how could we extend our reach beyond our membership, but also in a little bit deeper way, rather than just saying to a new (resident), go look at information on this website,” she said. “We wanted to give them an experiential way to learn about the community.” CONTINUED ON PAGE 10

Unexpected P s r s oblem e n i s : Bu


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MARCH 7, 2022

MRLA forms hospitality industry training school Academy will seek to revitalize Michigan’s restaurant and hotel workforce through upskilling. Rachel Watson

The new Hospitality Training Institute of Michigan will seek to provide restaurant and hotel workers with the skills needed to advance in their careers. The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association last month said it formed the Hospitality Training Institute of Michigan (HTIM) to help individuals expand the attributes needed for advanced careers in the hospitality industry through a group of 12-week training and certification programs. Almost 600,000 people work in the restaurant and lodging industries in Michigan, and in light of the mass exodus of workers from the sector prompted by the pandemic, HTIM will seek to help grow and support the careers of individuals by offering resources to educate and empower them through flexible program formats and schedules, so they will stay in the industry. “The hospitality industry in Michigan was decimated as a result of the pandemic and is still operating with 60,000 fewer employees than it was prior,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the MRLA. “The Hospitality Training Institute of Michigan has been thoughtfully designed to recruit for, and de-

Employees in the hospitality industry, including those who work in hotels and restaurants, can sharpen their skills through 12-week courses offered through the Hospitality Training Institute of Michigan. Courtesy iStock

velop talent within, Michigan’s beleaguered hospitality industry. For prospective employees, that means a clear pathway toward advancement and a meaningful career, and for employers, the HTIM offers a proven curriculum that will improve operations during exceptionally challenging times.” HTIM is a trade and career school that is approved by the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity that aims to be the first choice for leadership, compliance training

and skillset development for the hospitality industry. The 12-week courses will explore the hospitality industry’s business side, from understanding point-of-sale reports and profit and loss statements to management and leadership training. HTIM also offers opportunities for apprenticeships with on-the-job learning and related training instruction. Amanda Smith, EVP of education for the MRLA and executive director of the MRLA Educational Foundation, said the

association already was planning to create an initiative like this before the pandemic, and COVID-19 only accelerated the need. “Numbers had been declining for years, and one of the reasons, or one of the theories before the pandemic, was that we don’t often show people the way that they can be a leader in this industry or that there (is) high growth potential within the industry,” she said. “We’ve been looking at ways that we can help bring professionalism to the industry. We’ve seen a bunch of different programs and initiatives focused around that come forward, so we decided to develop the Hospitality Training Institute because with the natural loss of staff, with lower birth rates and all of that, and then the pandemic really just wreaking havoc on our supply chain of employees, we wanted to offer a way for people to upskill their skillsets and provide the instruction that goes with the apprenticeship-style training, as well.” The school will kick off with two Michigan hospitality leadership certificate programs— the Hospitality Supervisor Certificate and the Hospitality Business Management Certificate. Both programs will be offered in two attendance formats — the hybrid model or the strictly online format. The hybrid model will be offered in Lansing, with classes starting March 21. “Every student who completes one of the 12-week programs from HTIM will leave with the confidence, skills and CONTINUED ON PAGE 15

Report: Employer outlook remains positive Lakeshore Advantage analyzes business leader interviews in annual report. Rachel Watson

Ottawa and Allegan counties remained economically strong in 2021, showing growth trends rooted in the strength of the manufacturing industry, according to a Lakeshore Advantage report released last month. The 2021 Business Intelligence Report is a Lakeshore Advantage analysis of business executive responses for 120 companies in Allegan, Muskegon and Ottawa counties in 2021. “Data drives our work, and this input from employers is crucial in how we support our economic base in West Michigan,” said Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage. “The 2021 Business Intelligence Report offers insight into how our primary employers have emerged from the COVID-19 crisis and what’s

now top of mind for them in this time of recovery.” Ninety-five percent of companies surveyed reported market share was increasing or stable in 2021, compared to 69% in 2019. In line with the positive trend of growing market share, 83% of employers reported increasing or stable sales in 2021, and 87% of employers reported new products, services and/or capabilities in the next two years. Highlighted in this report was the fact diversification helped many companies in the lakeshore region to remain strong. Seventy percent of companies interMurray viewed serve more than one industry with automotive manufacturing, furniture and related product manufacturing, and consumer goods production being the top three most common industries interviewed. Sixty-nine percent of em-

ployers said they have plans to expand in the next three years, up from 55% in 2020. Lakeshore Advantage said its project pipeline has never been fuller, with existing companies looking to expand locally or new companies looking to relocate to the area. “These anticipated expansion projects look like small incremental growth of existing companies who have maxed out their space and need room to grow,” said Amanda Murray, Lakeshore Advantage vice president of business solutions. “We are seeing expansion projects take significantly longer, with costs up about 30% pre-pandemic, so 18 months is not too early to reach out to us. We’ll connect you to resources and partners to help manage your project well.” The report also highlighted expansion and industry trends to look out for in 2022, such as Industry 4.0, a term used to encompass a wide range of technologies that allow businesses to control processes, enable cost savings and capture data to understand their opportunities and risks more fully. Over 60% of companies have reported they are “very

or somewhat” prepared to implement Industry 4.0 technologies into their processes, with a lack of staff expertise cited as the biggest barrier. “Industry 4.0 helps make automation cost-effective, flexible and accessible to smaller jobshop manufacturers like Impact Fab,” said Ross Haan, president of Impact Fab and an early adopter of Industry 4.0. “Integrating Industry 4.0 practices helped us increase productivity by over three times from some of our previous manufacturing methods.” Business executive interviews were conducted by Lakeshore Advantage, Greater Muskegon Economic Development and The Chamber of Commerce Owens Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg to produce the regional report. The full 2021 Business Intelligence Report is available at bir.


GVSU sets four-year strategic plan Empowered experience, lifetime learning and equity will shape all decisions. Danielle Nelson

Grand Valley State University President Philomena Mantella recently unveiled her first strategic plan, Reach Higher 2025, for the university since she took the lead in 2019. The university’s three major commitments over the next four years include an empowered educational experience, educational offerings for a lifetime of learning and a culture of educational equity. The plan was approved by the university’s board of trustees in February. Mantella said the goal is to create an impact in the community. The university will begin implementing the plan this academic year. “We are a public institution in service of the citizens of Michigan,” she said of the strategic plan. “It is to be sure that their educational experience provides the strongest possible foundation for their lives so that they can make an impact individually and the students can have a level of satisfaction with the experience and how they were prepared and, collectively, as Lakers come together so we can make an impact on the communities and societies that we are a part of.” The school’s empowered educational experience commitment is about students having an active place in their education. Mantella said GVSU will be intentional about seeking not just what students’ majors are or their interest, but also what their passions are, what they want to pursue and where they want to live, so the university is able to have a full understanding of the direction students want to go. Mantella said there will be new and evolving programs. “Students will many times evolve their thinking as they go,” she said. The second commitment the university is focusing on over the next four years is educational offerings that cater to various types of students, whether they are 18-yearold high school graduates or adult learners, and encourage them to be lifelong learners by their intentionality about the higher learning journey. “We also want to ensure that our educational offerings are well-positioned to support people in different phases and stages of their lives, maybe when they are working full-time, and they want to come back for a degree or certificate. It is really about education and not being bounded in a four-year traditional term.” Mantella said GSVU’s educational equity commitment is a response to students who have been underserved by education, including first-generation students, people of color, and “that the community is inclusive and supportive of backgrounds, traditions and lived experiences so that everyone feels welcomed and belongs at the university.”



MARCH 7, 2022



Practice group Year established partner in W. Mich.

No. of W. Mich. No. of W. Mich. employment employment hours billed lawyers

Major employment clients

Areas of expertise


Miller Johnson 45 Ottawa Ave. SW, Suite 1100 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 831-1700 f 831-1701

Mary Tabin Jeff Fraser




Spectrum Health, Bronson Health, Stryker, Kellogg Company, Samaritas, Herman Miller, Fusion Education Group, Challenge Manufacturing, Douglas Autotech, Motus Integrated Technologies

Employment counsel: FMLA/ADA, wage and hour, privacy, immigration, affirmative action, international employment. Labor counsel: both managing union relationships and remaining union free. Litigation and dispute resolution: alleged claims of discrimination and harassment, retaliation and non-competes


Warner Norcross + Judd LLP 150 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 1500 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 752-2000 f 752-2500

Jonathan Kok Edward Bardelli




The Dow Chemical Company, EJ Group, Entergy, Haworth, National Heritage Academies, Seneca Foods, SpartanNash, Wolverine Worldwide

Work with public and private companies employing union and non-union workforces, providing counsel on hiring, promoting, supervising, disciplining and firing employees. Counsel organizations on immigration, labor relations, workplace safety and health issues, and workplace policies and more


Varnum LLP 333 Bridge St. NW Grand Rapids 49504 p (616) 336-6000 f 336-7000

Maureen Rouse-Ayoub





All areas of labor and employment law including employment litigation defense, strategic labor relations planning and implementation, wage and hour law, workers’ compensation defense, workplace safety and health/MIOSHA, harassment, investigations and regulatory compliance.


Barnes & Thornburg LLP 171 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 1000 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 742-3930 f 742-3999

Keith Brodie




The Dow Chemical Company; Fiserv Inc.; Tyson Foods Inc.; Flying Food Group LLC; Gerdau Special Steel North America; LG Energy Solution Michigan Inc.; Grand Valley State University; Henry Ford Health System; Sparrow Hospital; Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority and more

Traditional labor, employment litigation, employment counseling, advice and training, OSHA, EEOC, DOL, FMLA, OFCCP, ADA, wage and hour, ULP, union avoidance, FSLA, RIFs, NLRB, arbitrations, collective bargaining


Mika Meyers PLC 900 Monroe Ave. NW Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 632-8000 f 632-8002

Nathaniel R. Wolf





Private sector and public sector employers, including colleges and universities, school districts, nonprofits and municipalities; all aspects of labor and employment, including collective bargaining, grievance arbitrations, union organizing and campaign elections, unfair labor practices; wage-hour compliance and more


Clark Hill PLC 200 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 500 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 608-1100 f 608-1199


Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith PC 1700 East Beltline Ave. NE, Suite 200 Grand Rapids 49525 p (616) 726-2200 f 726-2299


Bodman PLC 99 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 300 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 205-4330


Bos & Glazier PLC 990 Monroe Ave. NW Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 458-6814 f 459-8614

10 Rhoades McKee PC

55 Campau Ave. NW, Suite 300 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 235-3500 f 459-5102

Kimberly Moore





Collective bargaining; employee benefits/ERISA; employee handbooks; employment counseling; employment litigation; labor law; Title IX compliance and investigations; unfair labor practice charges; wage and hour; workers' compensation; and more

Brian Goodenough





Employment and labor relations, employee benefits and ESOPs, employment litigation, workers' compensation

John David Gardiner





Representation of employers in all areas of labor and employment law

Bradley Glazier





Wrongful discharge, discrimination, wage and hour, severance negotiations

Mark Smith





Employment agreements, non-competes, employment counseling and training, workplace discrimination, labor laws and management, wage and hour act, employment litigation, FMLA, FLSA


Wheeler Upham PC 250 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 100 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 459-7100 f 459-6366

Glenn Smith





Federal sector employment law, ADA, Title VII


Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge 100 Monroe Center NW Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 774-8000 f 774-2461

Kevin Even





Discrimination, harassment, unfair competition, unfair labor practices, wage and hour, wrongful termination, arbitration, American Disabilities Act, acquiring/terminating employees, COBRA, collective bargaining, employee handbooks, employment practices liability insurance, Family Medical Leave Act and more


Scholten Fant 100 N.Third St., P.O. Box 454 Grand Haven 49417 p (616) 842-3030 f 846-6621

Robert Sullivan





Separation agreements, employment contracts, employee handbooks, personnel policies, general employment

Dickinson Wright PLLC 200 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 1000 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 458-1300 f 670-6009

Kathryn Wood






Drew Cooper & Anding 80 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 200 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 454-8300 f 454-0036

Stephen Drew Adam Sturdivant




Plaintiffs with employment claims

Civil rights, employment law, sexual harassment, personal injury, sexual abuse/assault

Jackson Lewis PC 250 Monroe NW, Suite 400 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 940-0230 f 285-7215

Emily Petroski





Corporate diversity counseling, litigation, labor relations, privacy, data and cybersecurity, disability, leave and health management, workplace training

The Grand Rapids Business Journal list of top area labor and employment law firms, ranked by number of West Michigan employment law hours billed in 2021, is the most comprehensive available. The list is based on responses to Business Journal surveys. The Business Journal defines "West Michigan" as Allegan, Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties. The Business Journal surveyed 162 law firms; 19 returned surveys and 16 are listed. To be considered for future lists, email DND = Did not disclose

New hires Leigh Schultz and Barbara Moore recently joined Miller Johnson’s Kalamazoo office. Schultz and Moore are labor and employment attorneys.

Partnership Varnum elected four members to its partnership. They are Edward Gusky, Ziyad Hermiz, Christopher Hiller and Maureen Rouse-Ayoub.

Promotion Jackson Lewis’ Emily Petroski was promoted to office managing principal in Detroit and Grand Rapids. She focuses on employment litigation and risk mitigation.



Download this list now at in Excel or PDF format. The Book of Lists and other lists are also available.



MARCH 7, 2022



W. Mich. managing partner(s)

Joining the team

Year No. of W. Mich. established in Family law hours family law Total no. of W. Mich. billed in 2021 lawyers lawyers

No. of W. Mich. No. of W. Mich. support staff paralegals

Top areas of practice


Thacker Sleight PC 445 Cherry St. SE Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 888-3810 f 888-3811

Connie Thacker Allison Sleight







Family law, collaborative divorce, business valuation


Warner Norcross + Judd LLP 150 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 1500 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 752-2000 f 752-2500

Mark Wassink







Business and corporate, litigation and trial, human resources, intellectual property, trusts and estates, real estate


Varnum LLP 333 Bridge St. NW Grand Rapids 49504 p (616) 336-6000 f 336-7000

Ronald DeWaard Scott Hill







Corporate, banking, finance and restructuring, litigation, labor and employment, estate planning and trust services


Scholten Fant 100 N.Third St., P.O. Box 454 Grand Haven 49417 p (616) 842-3030 f 846-6621

Robert Sullivan







Family law, business law, estate planning and elder law, real estate, municipal


Rhoades McKee PC 55 Campau Ave. NW, Suite 300 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 235-3500 f 459-5102

Anthony Pearson







Business and commercial litigation, insurance defense, estate planning and probate, real estate and construction, family law


Bolhouse, Hofstee & McLean PC 3996 Chicago Drive SW Grandville 49418 p (616) 531-7711 f 531-7757

Mark Hofstee







Business law, collections and creditors' rights, estate planning, family law, real estate and construction law


Mika Meyers PLC 900 Monroe Ave. NW Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 632-8000 f 632-8002

Scott Dwyer Joshua Beard Mark Nettleton







Business, municipal, litigation, labor and employment, energy and environmental, family law and trusts and estates


MI Family Law Center 701 3 Mile Road NW, Suite A Grand Rapids MI p (616) 528-8877 f 784-5392

Matthew DeLange







Family law, divorce, custody, child support, interstate


Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge 100 Monroe Center NW Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 774-8000 f 774-2461

Kevin Even Matthew Wikander







Litigation, medical malpractice defense, health law, professional liability defense, business law

10 Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith PC

Anne Seurynck







Business, litigation, municipal law, health care, employment

1700 East Beltline Ave. NE, Suite 200 Grand Rapids 49525 p (616) 726-2200 f 726-2299


Miller Johnson 45 Ottawa Ave. SW, Suite 1100 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 831-1700 f 831-1701

Robert Wolford David Buday







Business/corporate, including M&A, real estate, tax, cybersecurity; employee benefits and executive compensation; employment and labor; litigation, including alternative dispute resolution; and private client including estate planning and family law


Damon Ver Merris Boyko & Witte PLC 825 Parchment Drive SE, Suite 100 Grand Rapids 49546 p (616) 975-9951 f 975-9973

Larry Ver Merris Curtis Witte Charles Damon John Boyko Jr.







Business and corporate, estate planning, probate and trust administration, family law, real estate, bankruptcy


Wheeler Upham PC 250 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 100 Grand Rapids 49503 p (616) 459-7100 f 459-6366

Glenn Smith Michael TerBeek







Commercial litigation, business law, insurance defense, estate planning, employment law

Bosch Killman VanderWal PC 2900 East Beltline Ave. NE Grand Rapids 49525 p (616) 364-2900 f 364-2901

Peter Bosch







Litigation, business law, family law, estate planning, real estate law and insurance

Kotz Sangster 3333 Deposit Drive NE, Suite 320 Grand Rapids 49546 p (616) 552-6400 f 469-1553

Todd Van Eck







Family law, family trust and estate planning, family business succession planning, corporate law, real estate, financial services

The Grand Rapids Business Journal list of top area family law firms, ranked by number of family law hours billed in 2021, is the most comprehensive available. The list is based on responses to Business Journal surveys. The Business Journal defines "West Michigan" as Allegan, Kent, Ottaw and Muskegon counties. The Business Journal surveyed 145 law firms; 18 returned surveys and 15 are listed. To be considered for future lists, email DND = Did not disclose

Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge recently welcomed Julianna Hyatt-Wierzbicki to its Muskegon office. She has represented individuals in divorce and custody disputes, among other matters.

Elected leader Stephen Hulst was elected to serve as vice president on the executive committee at Rhoades McKee for a three-year term.

Management committee Mika Meyers elected Scott Dwyer, Mark Nettleton and Joshua Beard to its 2022 management committee.

2022 committee Foster Swift Collins & Smith elected Anne Seurynck, Michael Blum, Joel Farrar, Todd Hoppe, Douglas Mielock and David Russell to its 2022 executive committee.



Download this list now at in Excel or PDF format. The Book of Lists and other lists are also available.


MARCH 7, 2022


MIOSHA to ensure industrial employers have proper ventilation New alliance will educate workers about responsibilities of maintaining effective systems. Danielle Nelson

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) and the Michigan Industrial Ventilation Conference (MIVC) signed an alliance agreement to educate workers who are involved in industrial ventilation practices on how to reduce and prevent exposure to airborne contamination. Nella Davis-Ray, director of MIOSHA’s consultation, education and training division, said the goal of the alliance is to keep workers informed about the responsibilities they have under MIOSHA standards that address industrial ventilation issues. The three-year alliance allows MIOSHA to get input from MIVC staff on information they are sharing with employers such as fact sheets and documents that will help employers learn how to maintain an effective ventilation system. The alliance, Davis-Ray said, also will offer opportunities for workers to engage with professionals who teach at the conference. MIVC hosts educational con-

ferences with experts who provide instruction and lectures to individuals such as industrial hygienists, engineers, contractors and manufacturers from across the world about the design, construction, use and testing of ventilation systems. “This alliance formalizes the long-standing collaborative agreement between the MIVC and MIOSHA that began in 1952,” said MIVC Executive Director Gregg Grubb. “The MIVC will provide affordable, expert industrial ventilation training and educational services to Michigan consultants, regulatory agencies, employers and employees seeking training on how best to design, operate, maintain and assess industrial ventilation systems. Grubb Such training and information will be useful toward reducing employee exposure to airborne contaminants in Michigan’s workplaces. The MIVC will also serve as an informational resource to MIOSHA and Michigan’s workplaces.” There are numerous categories of contaminants that are a threat to the respiratory health of workers in the industrial workplace, including gasses, vapors and particles. Some of

these contaminants include carbon monoxide, toluene, acetone, dust, fumes, asbestos, smoke and mists. Industrial ventilation sys-

“A lot of people confuse industrial ventilation systems with the heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, or HVAC systems, that you have at home or that provide air in an office setting or something of that nature. Industrial ventilation is not that type of application. Those systems have different design parameters than industrial ventilation systems do.” Gregg Grubb tems, Grubb said, do not include heating and air conditioning systems. “A lot of people confuse industrial ventilation systems with the heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, or HVAC systems, that you have at home or that provide air in an office

setting or something of that nature. Industrial ventilation is not that type of application,” he said. “Those systems have different design parameters than industrial ventilation systems do.” Grubb said industrial ventilation systems include local exhaust, general exhaust and replacement air, otherwise known as supply air ventilation. “In a local exhaust ventilation system, we have a shaped hood that is located close to the source of a contaminant,” he said “So, either the contaminant could be literally generated inside the hood itself — what we call an enclosing hood system — or it could be a close capture system where the hood is located adjacent to the source that’s being generated. They capture the containment, move it through the hood through a duct system, typically through an air cleaning device. There is a fan that is used to supply the energy necessary to move the air and overcome all the resistances for moving the air through the ventilation system, and then exhausted either back to the atmosphere or recirculated back into the facility if it has been properly cleaned.” Grubb said general exhaust systems come in two different categories: dilution systems and displacement ventilation systems. “In a dilution system, where the contaminant source is not centrally located and conve-

niently captured by the local exhaust ventilation system, like lift trucks being used in a warehouse that run on natural gas, they are going to emit carbon monoxide into the workplace. You can’t get a local exhaust to capture that, so what you do in a warehouse application is, you bring in large volumes of fresh air to dilute the carDavis-Ray bon monoxide to a safe exposure level. “Displacement ventilation systems are systems that are still general exhaust systems, but instead of diluting the contaminant, we bring the air in at a velocity low enough (and) in large enough quantities and it acts like a ram to push the contaminants away from someone’s breathing zone to an exhaust point farther down in the room and building. Then there’s also replacement air. If I’m going to exhaust air from a building, I need to bring a nearly equal amount of air back into a building in order to ensure the ventilation system will function properly.” Throughout the alliance, MIOHSA will work with MIVC to ensure that workers are educated and trained on the importance of proper ventilation systems.






How we’re boosting the fight against hunger Bank of America is proudly supporting our employees’ health and safety and addressing one of our local community’s most critical needs. Each day, millions of Americans suffer from food insecurity, which typically spikes during the winter months. For every employee who lets us know they’ve received a booster shot, Bank of America is donating $100 to local hunger-relief organizations. This is a direct investment in the health of our teammates, and in the well-being of the communities where we work and live. Through this effort, our team in Grand Rapids recently presented Feeding America West Michigan with a check for $50,000. This contribution is in addition to our long-standing philanthropic support to help fight hunger and food insecurity across the country. We are proud to be able to help our community as we work together to move forward.

Renee Tabben President, Bank of America Grand Rapids

Learn more at

Donations in each market reflect $100 per employee who has recorded their booster and an additional company contribution. Vaccination boosters and vaccination reporting are voluntary. Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. Equal Credit Opportunity Lender. © 2022 Bank of America Corporation. All rights reserved.



MARCH 7, 2022

Ottawa County looks to prevent loss of farmland MiFarmLink Project protects property and links farmers to share knowledge. Danielle Nelson

Ottawa County is investing in its farming community. The county recently established the MiFarmLink Project, a local support system for Michigan farmers, following the results of surveys that were completed by agricultural landowners about the importance of farmland. Becky Huttenga, Ottawa County economic development coordinator, said they surveyed 1,600 different landowners in 2019 and found that succession planning, zoning, economic viability (diversifying income) and permanent conservation easement were the four most important topics to them. The results from the surveys gave way to the MiFarmLink Project and the county launched the MiFarmLink website (mifarmlink. org) last year. It focuses on succession planning and providing resources for younger farmers, including mentorship opportunities. “The biggest part of the MiFarmLink piece is the land-linking component of it,” Huttenga said. “There are a lot of states in the U.S. that have a farm-link program. It

is a place where folks can list their farmland. MiFarmLink asks different questions including what type of tenure arrangement, what is the crop rotation and all the agricultural-related details of the property, and then those seeking farmland can go find it. It offers a better platform and all the surrounding services versus the traditional real estate transaction.” In addition to linking farmers to farmland, MiFarmLink Project is partnering with McShane & Bowie, a Grand Rapids-based law firm, to help local farmers with succession planning. The law firm is offering farmers free consultations that will guide them in creating a personalized succession plan to protect them, their heirs and their assets. Huttenga said when there is not a succession plan in place, farmland often is sold and used for other purposes, which results in limited access to farmland and an increase in the price per acre. “Older farmers who own and control their land, if they don’t have a succession plan in place and they pass away and they have kids and maybe none of them want to come back to the farm or maybe one or two want to come back to the farm and there isn’t a plan, often times that results in the land being sold for full development value and it could be anyone who buys it for any use, not ( just) agriculture,” she said. “I think that is where we lose a lot of it, when that transition happens.

“If it is sold at full development value per acre here, and you need 80 (acres) to grow your farm, that is hard for a startup farmer. Farming margins are thin. Capital is a part of the problem with land access, getting that cash flow.” The MiFarmLink website also provides farmers with information on financial resources. Although agricultural conservation easement is not one of the primary focuses of the MiFarmLink website, Huttenga said they are working with farmers on preserving their farmland by putting agricultural conservation easements in place, which includes buying the development rights for a specific property. That process reduces the cost of buying land at agricultural value. “In Ottawa County, it is $3,800 or so per acre versus $7,500 -$8,500 per acre depending on where you are in rural areas,” Huttenga said. The agricultural conservation easement program also is being used to prevent the conversion of farmland into housing developments. “Low density rural housing development is responsible for like 40% of the farmland lost nationwide,” Huttenga said. “That was data by the National Farmland Trust. So, the people who want the idyllic house on 10 acres out in the country, that is what’s chewing up our farmland more than anything, which goes back to planning and zoning. “There are a couple of town-

County officials said when there is not a succession plan in place, farmland often is sold and used for other purposes, which results in limited access to farmland and an increase in the price per acre. Courtesy Ottawa County

ships that I am aware of that make me cringe a little bit on (their) willingness to rezone certain properties from ag to rural residential, and you can’t undo that.” Huttenga said there is another issue that is contributing to the lack of farmland — the lack of shared knowledge between older and younger farmers. “When those farmers get out (of farming) and they have not transferred that knowledge and farming practices to another farm-

er, that lack of knowledge and skill loss is a threat,” she said. To confront that issue, the MiFarmLink land listings option on the website asks current farm owners if they are interested in being a mentor. Along with having the MiFarmLink website as an asset to farmers and potential farmers, MiFarmLink Project also hosts in-person meetings for individuals to connect and learn more about farming and available resources.

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Consultant draws inspiration from past


s a native of Mexico and a new resident of Holland as a child, Ana Ramirez-Saenz repeatedly was told by classmates, “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.” Ramirez-Saenz — the third child of a hardworking single mother who brought her family to the U.S. for access to better opportunities — took these hurtful words and used them as fuel for her lifelong mission to advance the social and economic equity of Latin Americans. “When I heard that (insult), it lit such a fire under me,” Ramirez-Saenz said. “I’m a gregarious, feisty person anyway, so I went home, and I told my mom, and she went, ‘OK, so what are you going to do?’ And I said to her, ‘Mom, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I’m not much. I’m going to show them who I am and what I can do.’ Mom said, ‘Ándele, adelante’ — ‘That’s right; go forward.’ It was that spirit of, don’t you let anybody tell you who you are and what you can and cannot do.” From then on, RamirezSaenz pushed herself to be the best. In school, she was involved in just about every sport she could be, including gymnastics, diving, swimming, and track and field, as well as participating in orchestra and band and going to classes. “I didn’t want to give (people) any excuse to say I wasn’t good enough,” she said. One of Ramirez-Saenz’s earliest aspirations was to become a Spanish language interpreter for the United Nations. While a junior at the University of Michigan studying Spanish language and literature, she applied to take a test that would grant her admission to an interpreter certification program

at Georgetown University. Unbeknownst to her, she was competing against diplomats and professionals who were fluent in four or five languages, and Ramirez-Saenz was not admitted to the program. Undaunted, she finished her degree and went on to earn an M.B.A. with a concentration in finance from U-M after an undergraduate accounting class she took revealed she was good with numbers. “I loved marketing, but in talking to my (college) advisers and to my mentor, I said, ‘I can’t do that. As a Latina, I must have a degree and a concentration where no one will be able to question my credibility, where no one will be able to question my education.’ I toughed it out, and I (pursued) a concentration in finance. I knew that as a Latina woman coming into the marketplace in the mid-’80s, when there weren’t a whole lot of us coming out of business schools, I knew that I needed to be taken seriously.” Now, looking back on that choice, Ramirez-Saenz has no regrets, because her understanding of finance helped her launch and run her own diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consulting firm, LaFuente Consulting, in 2000. LaFuente Consulting helps companies compete in the global marketplace through aligning the organizations’ diversity and inclusion strategies to the corporate strategic plan, assessing the skills and knowledge of managers responsible for multicultural teams, designing and developing programs to increase staff members’ awareness of the need for respecting differences, and coaching senior leaders to work with multicultural teams in multiple time zones. She created a language services division within the firm in 2003, and last year, spun that

ANA RAMIREZ-SAENZ Organization: LaFuente Consulting and LaFuente Communications Position: Founder and president Birthplace: Tampico, Mexico Residence: Caledonia Family: Mother, Francisca Castillo; daughters, Amanda Saenz-Farfan and Catalina Ramirez-Saenz; one son-in-law; two grandsons Community/business involvement: Ferris State University Board of Trustees vice chair and chair of Academic Services and Student Services Committee, Grand Rapids Community Foundation board member, Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore board member, member of West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, member of Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Biggest career break: Being hired by Wells Fargo to begin its ethnic lending program


Ana Ramirez-Saenz chose to pursue an M.B.A. with a concentration in finance so she would be “taken seriously” coming out of college. Courtesy Ana Ramirez-Saenz

Ana Ramirez-Saenz works to make a more inclusive economy for all. Rachel Watson

MARCH 7, 2022

division off into its own company, LaFuente Communications, which offers translation, interpretation and multimedia language services for businesses and organizations to communicate with their multilingual employees, connect with customers, and reach prospective clients worldwide. Ramirez-Saenz is proud of her roots and her family and said she draws inspiration every day from her mother, Francisca Castillo. Her mother was one of six children in a family that could only send her to school up to third grade. After Castillo divorced her husband, Ramirez-Saenz’s father, when Ramirez-Saenz was a toddler, she followed her brother, Juan, to Laredo, Texas, where she landed work as a domestic. As Castillo began settling into life in America, she made a friend named Irene, who was from a migrant family that followed the harvest throughout the U.S. Irene told her about the small town of Holland, Michigan, which she described as clean, pretty and full of flowers, with a church on every corner. Castillo was enchanted with the description, and she moved with her three children to Holland in 1968 during Tulip Time — only later discovering the harsh realities of winter. She went to work in the Heinz pickle factory, while her friend, Irene, established the first Mexican market and restaurant in Holland. “We had arrived, we got our own apartment; it was fantastic. We were living the dream,”

Ramirez-Saenz said. “Those formative years were really the ones that cemented our character, cemented our values, because there was no shortage of people that were willing to help us, and they were willing to help us because of how hard my mother worked. They saw her strength and what she wanted to do for her kids — the dedication and the determination and the drive that she had.” Ramirez-Saenz said Castillo is blessed with the gift of hospitality and friendliness, and people in Holland were attracted to that. “Our house was the go-to house, so when anybody ever needed anything, they went to Kika’s house — that’s my mother’s nickname — because they knew that she would be able to help,” she said. Although Ramirez-Saenz said growing up in Holland was wonderful in some respects — the safety, sense of community, the spirit of service and plethora of churches where she could attend Bible school — she also felt the lack of DEI — a theme that kept cropping up throughout her life and professional career. As a natural extension of Castillo’s “relentless work ethic,” Ramirez-Saenz said she and her siblings all were expected to go to college. Her older sister went to the University of Michigan, then eventually on to law school at Rutgers University, and her older brother went to Hope College. When it came time for Ramirez-Saenz to choose, she

decided to follow in her sister’s footsteps at U-M. The accounting class she took in her sophomore year assisted her in progressing through various part-time jobs that gave her more and more business experience and allowed her to help support her family. By the time she graduated with her M.B.A., she was ready to launch a career in banking. At her second banking job, Wells Fargo, Ramirez-Saenz seized the opportunity to work in the Los Angeles market, home of the largest Latino community in the U.S., where she helped the bank create an ethnic lending program. After a couple of years in LA, she returned home to West Michigan to a job at Steelcase Financial, so she could settle down and start a family. After a four-year career at Steelcase, Ramirez-Saenz was itching to take what she had learned about DEI in the workplace and apply those skills toward helping companies implement strategies. “The groundwork had been laid over the years; I just didn’t one day say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a diversity consultant,’” Ramirez-Saenz said. “All of the experiences that I had throughout my career in some way or fashion, I was involved in and being pulled into this discussion about diversity, about increasing recruitment of people of color, and I was always involved in some committee or subcommittee, with people asking me, ‘How do we CONTINUED ON PAGE 10


MARCH 7, 2022


Consultant draws inspiration from her roots CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9

get more of YOU into our organization?’ I had been building this knowledge base, and so I was really doing diversity work with my employers when it wasn’t called diversity work.” Ramirez-Saenz also had experienced plenty of discrimination in the workplace, including some banking clients asking that she be removed from managing their accounts due to her race. At the time she started

LaFuente Consulting, RamirezSaenz said West Michigan companies were far behind when it came to implementing DEI policies and strategies, so most of her clients were from outside the region and outside the state. Up until 2015-17, she estimates about 60%-70% of her business was done outside the state of Michigan. Now, she sees West Michigan making more progress toward becoming a more welcoming and inclusive place, and she is gradually becoming more well-known as a DEI con-

sultant in this area. “Kudos to the chamber, to The Right Place, for a lot of the programming that has been done collectively to make Grand Rapids and West Michigan a more diverse and welcoming location,” she said. “I can see the results and benefits. But when you look at, in terms of the industry as a whole here, I would say that the intention has not changed. We still have to have the hard conversations. … We are making progress, but we’re still dealing

with the same issues of race. We’re still dealing with issues of identity. We’re still dealing with the same issues of belonging, and we’re still dealing the same issues of equity. What has changed is that more and more companies have started the conversation; more and more companies have started the work.” Ramirez-Saenz said she looks forward to continuing to do this “vital” work in the region she has called home for so many years.

“There are a lot of people working on this. We’ve made a lot of progress, but if West Michigan is really going to thrive, more than we are now … if we are really going to get on that top list of the most diverse, inclusive cities, we all need to come together and recognize that we have to work together for the betterment of our community and for the betterment of our region. … We have to be intentional. We have to be strategic, and we have to be all open to each other.”

FZ chosen to establish Innovation Center CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1

smart manufacturing awareness, understanding and adoption through the use of Smart Manufacturing Innovation Centers (SMICs), which are standalone, innovative, value-driven centers that further CESMII’s mission in a hands-on and learning-centric way. Four other SMICs currently are in existence across the nation. FZ’s is the latest, and it will be known as the Innovation Center. “Our team is thrilled about the opportunity our Innovation Center will offer to small to midsized manufacturers (SMMs) located in the Midwest,” said Ryan Cahalane, president of industrial technology at Feyen Zylstra. “With many SMMs being intimidated by the cost and scope of smart manufacturing and supporting technologies, it is our goal to educate (companies on) how practical solutions and approaches can drive real, achievable results.” Slated to open in spring 2022, FZ’s Innovation Center will be

based at FZ’s current headquarters, 2396 Hillside Drive NW in Walker. Some of the offerings will be conducted virtually, and some will be in person, Cahalane said. The center will invite local manufacturers to learn, experience and interact with smart manufacturing technology through experimental labs, interactive training workshops and the showcasing of implementation success stories. The Innovation Center will focus on making these principles accessible and understandable for all manufacturers, regardless of size, type of manufacturing and the products they produce. John Dyck, CEO at CESMII, said FZ won the request for proposals to create the fifth SMIC in the network because it “embodies an underrepresented part of the CESMII ecosystem — the systems integrator.” “Their experience serving multiple industries in factory automation, robotics, manufacturing information systems and digital transformation consulting services helps shape the tangible value that manufacturers can

harness,” Dyck said. “They have the ability to guide customers through an often-confusing landscape of vendors while offering packaged solutions. Bringing smart manufacturing solutions to practice is about domain expertise and experience and value creation, but it’s also about contributing to the greater good and advancing the state of the industry. We’re proud to partner with FZ in this important endeavor, shining the spotlight on these important capabilities.” Cahalane said FZ’s Innovation Center will be the only center in the CESMII network not located in a university setting, which he believes will help transform the learning from theory to practice. “Academia tends to serve customers that are thinking theoretically, that are working on research projects that are driving 10 years out (into the future), and we felt that there was a gap in that many of these technologies are much more achievable than they are futuristic. Most of that attainable business transformation has been locked up in the

Fortune 500 companies that can afford to have a big think tank. … Part of the evolution of this technology is it’s much more accessible. You’ve got almost a doit-yourself capability where we can enable the skilled trades — your plant engineer, your frontline workforce — to make a fundamental difference in their o p e r a t i o n s ,” Cahalane Cahalane said. “FZ’s project experience, methodologies and daily interactions with manufacturers put us in a unique position to help SMMs address the labor challenge with innovative training workshops to upskill the manufacturing workforce. Beyond driving awareness for manufacturers, FZ also is able to provide guidance and services to help SMMs accelerate their ability to quickly implement more sustainable, resilient smart manufacturing solutions.”

FZ said it will have partners and customers that will, as part of the Innovation Center, share best practices and knowledge to contribute to the transformation of industry, and the company might invite back retirees with special expertise, as well. Although FZ has not fully built out its curriculum plan, Cahalane said much of the learning likely will be offered topically, such as sessions on press modernization or augmenting the workforce, and the session lengths could vary from two hours to all-day workshops. He said the training will be relevant to many sectors of the manufacturing industry, such as food processing, beverage, automotive, furniture, medical device or chemicals. FZ already has been conducting workshops on some of these topics over the past 18 months, but Cahalane said with the creation of the Innovation Center it likely will ramp up throughout the spring leading up to a grand opening in the summer. More information is at

Hello West Michigan launches Rapid Roots CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1

Hello West Michigan’s staff will lead and facilitate the program, which will take place out and about in the area. “We’re putting all of the sessions together and structuring it in a way that teaches people not only about the region, but also about the relocation process,” Gray said. “If you’ve ever relocated before, it’s kind of like learning how to learn a language. There’s an art to relocating. If your family has never done it before, or if it’s been a long time, there are things that you have to remember. The cohort is not only going to cover great things about West Michigan, but it’s also going to delve into the process of these are cultur-

al things, these are things about our community, but then these are also realities of relocation and what it looks like to make a life and a network in a new place.” Gray said although people don’t readily admit this, it can be hard to make friends as an adult, let alone in an unfamiliar city, and many times individuals leave their jobs and their new city when they feel they and their families aren’t fitting in. Spouses or significant others will be invited to a couple of the sessions so they, too, can make friends and connections. Gray said Hello West Michigan created this program to target “executive-level” talent because the organization saw a gap. “When there’s a new CEO in

town, the other CEOs circle the wagons and they welcome that CEO, they ‘entrée’ the CEO into West Michigan society. But if you go down a level, even to the C-suite or senior-level VPs that a new CEO might bring on to add to their team, those people don’t always get the same kind of systematic embrace,” she said. She said the relocation process typically has three stages: meeting the immediate needs of jobs, schools and housing; settling in, finding doctors, veterinarians and hairdressers, learning the area’s customs and finding causes to support; and lastly, making friends — all of which can take anywhere from three to 12 months. Hello West Michigan hopes to accelerate the process with Rapid Roots

so that, when the end of an 18- or 24-month job contract comes up, executives will feel more rooted and more likely to stay put. Gray said with Hello West Michigan’s established connections in the region, the organization should be able to connect participants with outlets for their hobbies, even if they are really niche. “Probably the most niche question I’ve ever gotten is ‘Is there a hand bell choir in West Michigan?’ … and I happened to know the answer (that there is),” she said. Because Hello West Michigan is a membership-funded organization, Gray said a great byproduct of its programmatic offerings always is when new companies

join because they appreciated a particular service, and she hopes this will be no different. “If we can help one employee at a company that we weren’t previously connected with, I think that sets the stage for a positive relationship, or at least the company taking advantage of other services we have available, whether they are services open to nonmembers, like Intern Connect or ReThink … or actually taking the step of saying, ‘Wow, this was so instrumental; I found this executive, but Hello West Michigan helped retain them and helped make them happy here, and retention also helps my bottom line, so I want to invest further in this strategic community organization.’”


MARCH 7, 2022


CPA addresses tax-filing questions for individuals Individuals can claim several credits this year; some businesses will have new reporting rules. Rachel Watson

A local accountant recently shared advice for individuals and businesses who have not yet filed their tax returns. Robert Roper, a certified public accountant and senior tax manager with Grand Rapids-based Kroon & Mitchell, recently spoke to the Business Journal about a few things to know this year as far as tax filing goes. For individuals, the first thing to note is the reporting of the advance child tax credit. According to the Internal Revenue SerRoper vice, under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021, advance payments of up to half the 2021 child tax credit were sent to eligible taxpayers. Roper said households already should have received or will receive a document called letter 6419 — one letter per parent, rather than one per household — that will need to be saved and given to the tax preparer so they can be input on the child tax credit worksheet of the household’s 2021 tax return. The letters contain documentation, for each parent, of half the amount of the payment for half of the children in the home, so each parent will need to retain letter 6419 to claim the dollar amount and the number of children listed on their letter on their return. “(The child tax credits previously) were never prepaid,” Roper said. “They were always taken on the tax return. So, what this letter is telling you is the amount that the government prepaid from July to December of 2021, which should represent one-half or thereabouts of your eligible credit.” The child tax credit for 2021 was $3,600 per qualifying child ages 5 and younger and $3,000 per child ages 6-17, and these amounts are subject to phase-out limitations, Roper said. He added there was an option to defer the child tax credit, so households that opted for that will be claiming the full amount on their 2021 worksheet. Another thing individuals should know about is the eco-

Taxpayers with children should pay close attention to child tax credits when filing for 2021. Courtesy iStock

nomic impact payments that were issued under ARP in 2021, Roper said. Some people didn’t receive their third installment. Individuals should by now have received letter 6475 detailing the amount of the payment they should have received between March and December 2021. If the amount on the letter is not equal to what the individual received, Roper said they should plan to save the letter and — subject to limitations — claim any unreceived payment as a recovery re-

“Your tax situation may have changed due to the tax law changes, and you might need to update your withholdings based on your new circumstances.” Robert Roper bate credit on their tax return. A second important piece of information for households with children is that child and dependent care for 2021 are refundable for the first time. Qualifying expenses include up to $8,000 for one qualifying child or $16,000 for two or more. The credit equals 50% of qualifying expenses for adjusted gross incomes (AGI) under $125,000, with a gradually declining credit down to 20% of expenses for AGIs up to $183,000, and the 20% rate for AGIs between $183,001 and $400,000. Both parents must have earned income or be seeking employment to qualify for the credit, Roper said. The IRS guidance on that is at New this year, a charitable contribution credit is available for individuals taking the stan-

dard deduction who made cash donations to a charity, capped at $300 for individuals or $600 for those married filing jointly. For the purposes of this credit, cash donations are defined as those made by check, credit card or debit card, as well as amounts incurred by an individual for unreimbursed out-of-pocket expenses. Tax filers who opt to itemize their deductions would not qualify for this credit, Roper said. Businesses, especially small retailers, have a new tax reporting requirement that will take effect for tax season 2022 that they should know about now, Roper said. Any business-related transactions greater than $600 completed through a payment settlement entity — such as Venmo, Paypal, Cash App, eBay, etc. — could be subject to reporting on return 1099-K. The previous threshold for 1099-K reporting for these types of transactions was $20,000, so this is a significant change, Roper said. The reason businesses need to know this now is that the third-party payment settlement entities will be requesting from them tax identification numbers and/or Social Security numbers to ensure they’re properly reporting in line with the new guidance, and the businesses will need to give those out to ensure compliance. As with these and any other changes that happen from year to year, Roper said he recommends people seek help from a CPA to ensure they are following tax law. “Your tax situation may have changed due to the tax law changes, and you might need to update your withholdings based on your new circumstances,” he said. “Please ensure that your withholdings are accurate and adequate for your current situation and work with your CPA or your employer to make sure that you’re properly addressing your current tax liability.”

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MARCH 7, 2022

Sports tourism pumps $55.5M into economy WMSC’s impact study reveals 309% increase over previous year. Danielle Nelson

The economic impact of sports tourism in West Michigan exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 2021. The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) generat-

ed $55.49 million in direct visitor spending in 2021. That is a 309% increase from 2020 ($13.5 million) and a 1% increase in direct visitor spending from 2019 ($54.9 million.) Direct visitor spending is generated through hotel overnight stays, restaurants and business transactions. WMSC hosted 100 events last year, a 122% increase over 2020 (45 events) and a 1% increase over 2019 (99 events).

“People missed sports,” said Mike Guswiler, WMSC president. “They missed what it means to their kids, to travel, to have social engagement and the health and wellness that comes from activities. There was pent-up demand and we saw that in 2021. As vaccines rolled out, as people became less wary of travel and the pandemic, they felt protected by the vaccine and the fact that many of the events were outdoors that

we were promoting. All those things combined really opened the floodgates to allow sports tourism, one of many sectors of tourism, to really lead people back in our hotels and our restaurants. That overall was really the impact that we were able to witness why we saw success in 2021.” While there was an increase in direct spending from 2019, there also were some decreases along the way.







The 100 sporting events attracted 184,360 athletes/visitors and there were 42,847 hotel room nights. The number of athletes/visitors increased 421% from 2020 (35,384) but decreased 20% from 2019 (230,382.) The number of hotel nights increased 229% from 2020 (13,042) but decreased 15% from 2019 (50,245.) The Meijer Sports Complex generated $5.6 million in direct visitor spending as it hosted 22 baseball/softball tournaments in 2021. There were 684 participating teams, of which 342 were travel teams. The teams accounted for 8,892 athletes, and 22,230 spectators watched the events. There were 5,973 hotel room nights purchased. The visitor spending of $5.6 million increased 134% from 2020 ($2.4 million), but there was an 8% decrease in visitor spending from 2019 ($6.1 million.) The number of tournaments held in 2021 increased by 47% from 2020 (15) and they equaled the number of events held in 2019, which was 22 events. The number of travel teams in 2021 increased 176% from 2020 (124), but the number of travel teams decreased 24% from 2019 (448).

“People missed sports. They missed what it means to their kids, to travel, to have social engagement and the health and wellness that comes from activities.”

Mike Guswiler



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There was a 102% increase in spectators from 2020 (11,013); however, the number of spectators did not reach the 2019 level as there was a decrease of 8% from 2019 (24,245.) The number of hotel room nights increased 145% from 2020 (2,433) but decreased 7% from 2019 (6,407). Despite some COVID-19 restrictions in place at the beginning of 2021, the Meijer State Games, both the winter and summer editions, generated $1.68 million in direct visitor spending through 37 events. They attracted 6,149 athletes. Some of the events included indoor archery, basketball, cross country skiing and disc golf. That was an increase of 126% from 2020 ($744,764) in direct visitor spending, but a drop 17% compared to 2019 ($2 million). Events in 2021 increased 12% from 2020 (33 events) but plummeted 40% from 2019 (62). Likewise, athlete participation numbers jumped by 38% from 2020 (4,471) but dipped CONTINUED ON PAGE 16


MARCH 7, 2022


Recreational boating industry powers through pandemic Michigan has almost 775,000 pleasure boat registrations and numbers continue to grow. Don VanderVeen

Special to the Business Journal

While cruise ship industry profits and stock values sank faster than a rock in water during the pandemic, Michigan’s recreational boating industry not only remained afloat, but thrived with near-record sales. In Michigan, there are close to 775,000 recreational boat registrations, and those numbers continue to grow. Social restrictions and precautions helped contribute to the boom for boat dealers and manufacturers. According to 2020 statistics, the recreational boat industry hit a 13-year high in sales. Sales of wake boats, ski boats, fishing boats, pontoon boats, luxury cruisers and sailboats increased better than 6% during the 2020 season. In 2021, those sales numbers increased again, and industry experts expect those numbers to continue to rise through 2022 and beyond. The strong boating industry sales were buoyed by pandemic-related issues and the necessity for recreational activities that incorporate social distancing. Tiffany Graham of Skipper-

Bud’s noted that pontoon boat sales — as well as wake boats, ski boats and personal watercraft — all have improved significantly over the past two years. “Boating is naturally a social distancing activity,” Graham said during ShowSpan’s 2022 Grand Rapids Boat Show. “It’s a family-and-friends activity. With the state of affairs over the past couple of years, people have grown to value their time and how they spend time with others. “Also, there are restrictions on travel. With boating, you are able to do it as a leisure activity and go almost wherever you want with whoever you want.” Dealers and vendors touted the industry’s success while showing off their latest and, in some cases, limited inventory at the Grand Rapids Boat Show. Models appeared to be sleeker, faster and available in more options than previous years. While boat sales have remained brisk over the past couple years, there also have been challenges. Disruptions to supply chains, lack of parts and manufacturers not being able to keep up with production demands have made it difficult for dealers and vendors to meet sales expectations. For consumers, the supply and demand has resulted in higher pricing for most brands. But those higher prices have not deterred customers looking to hit the open water in their own ves-

sels, according to Dan Kimball of Walstrom Marine. Located in Bay Harbor, Walstrom Marine deals in luxury cabin cruisers built by Tiara and Chris Craft, along with pontoon boats manufactured by Crest and Qwest. “It is getting tougher to get inventory,” Kimball said. “Getting inventory and supply is tough, whether it’s for parts, generators, or air conditioners or for the finished product. It’s a challenge for everything.” Kimball said the price of new boats sold by Walstrom Marine ranges from just over $40,000 to well over $1 million. “There are buyers for almost everything,” Kimball said. “It was a great year for us in 2021, and we are sold out of a lot of inventory through 2022. “We’re looking toward the future and encouraging customers to custom build their boats from a list of options and have it ready for them in a year.” One of the hottest segments of the market is the pontoon boat industry. When it comes to pontoons, mid-Michigan is the home for several manufacturing plants. Crest pontoons are manufactured in Owosso, while Manitou pontoons are built in Lansing and Qwest and Tahoe boats have operations in the St. Louis and Alma areas, respectively. “I like to refer to myself as ‘The Pontoon Queen,’ and pontoon boat sales are really good

Tiffany Graham represents inventory showcased by SkipperBud’s at the 2022 Grand Rapids Boat Show. Photo by Don VanderVeen

right now,” said Graham of SkipperBud’s. “With pontoon boats, it’s a more relaxing experience. Everyone can enjoy them, from grandparents to grandchildren. “Pontoon boating is a family activity. With today’s pontoon

boats, you can do it all, from a slow cruise, to skiing and tubing and even wake boarding. But people are also buying wake boats and ski boats. It is a very good time for the boating industry overall.”



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MARCH 7, 2022




COVID-19 punches hole in college enrollment Since the onset of the pandemic, far too many of Michigan’s high school seniors — particularly nonaffluent seniors — have had their dreams shattered. By either not enrolling in college or enrolling and then dropping out, or enrolling in post-secondary education at a level below what they aspired to and were qualified for, these students have had their life chances diminished. The impact of not earning a college degree is detailed by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The organization found that “obtaining a postsecondary credential is almost always worth it, as evidenced by higher earnings over a lifetime. The higher the level of educational attainment, the higher the payoff. What’s more, the gap is widening. In 2002, a bachelor’s degree-holder could expect to earn 75% more over a lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma. Today, that premium is 84%.” On average: • A high school dropout can expect to earn $973,000 over a lifetime. • Someone with a high school diploma can expect to earn $1.3 million over a lifetime. • A worker with some college but no degree earns $1.5 million over a lifetime. • An associate degree-holder earns $1.7 million over a lifetime. •A worker with a bachelor’s degree will earn $2.3 million over a lifetime. Graduate degrees confer even higher earnings: • A master’s degree-holder

earns $2.7 million over a lifetime. •A doctoral degree-holder earns $3.3 million over a lifetime. •A professional degree-holder earns $3.6 million over a lifetime. Too many pandemic-era high school seniors are losing out on this opportunity. Using data from the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, the news organization Bridge Michigan calculated that 17,500 fewer high school graduates enrolled in college in 2020 and 2021

students who started college in fall 2019, 26.1%, or roughly 679,000, didn’t come back the next year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That was an increase of 2 percentage points over the previous year, and the highest share of students not returning for their sophomore year since 2012.” Maybe most discouraging is the effect the pandemic

has had on high-achieving seniors, particularly low-income, high-achieving students attending predominantly nonaffluent high schools. These are students who are qualified for and increasingly are being admitted to the most selective universities in the country, where college graduation rates are the highest CONTINUED ON PAGE 15





Danielle Nelson: Rachel Watson: Chelsea Carter: STATE LEGISLATIVE REPORTER

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Michigan journalist,



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“Maybe most discouraging is the effect the pandemic has had on high-achieving seniors, particularly low-income, high-achieving students attending predominantly nonaffluent high schools.”



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Michelle VanArman:


Melissa Novak:


combined, compared to the average for the three previous years. The college-going rate declined from 62.9% from 20172019 to 54.6% in 2020, and to 53.5% in 2021. In an article entitled “More students are dropping out of college during COVID — and it could get worse,” the Hechinger Report found “of the 2.6 million

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Our West Michigan employees are demanding more control of their work time. We need a policy. Cancel your vacations and work through the weekend to get it done.


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What is the cost of being short-staffed?


ost business owners can easily relate to the emotional toll being shortstaffed causes. Knowing exactly the cost of being short-staffed or hiring the wrong person for your company can be difficult to measure, however. When surveyed, 62% of small business owners state they have made a “wrong” hire or bad decision a time or two when it comes to hiring. Five ways it can cost a business: Bottom line, profits, moola, cash in the bank: Whatever you want to call it, employee turnover costs money. There is the time it takes to hire, the training time to bring a new employee up to speed, the loss of productivity that can equal lost sales. The average cost for each person who quits is 125%. What does this mean? For example, if you hire

an hourly employee for $20 per hour and that person resigns, it will cost you on average $25 per hour to hire, train and get the next one to be proficient. I realize this is hard to sometimes wrap our heads around, but your time as the business owner equals value and this cost affects the direct bottom line. Grass is always greener theory: There has been a social media trend to celebrate quitting your job on social media. Hashtags such as #quitmyjobtoday #peaceout(insertnameofbusiness) have started to become a trend. Other employees watch this happen and then start to notice the aspects of their job that they do not like and focus on the negative instead of what your company does offer. The grass-isalways-greener theory then kicks in, which is when you look at other companies and think they will be better to work for — their grass is greener than my yellow lawn. Then they, too, quit, which starts point No. 1 all over again: turnover cost. Hiring the right people from the start will reduce this phenomenon. Stunts company growth: This is a real struggle. How can you as a business owner proactively focus on growth plans, strategies and networking when you are constantly working in the busi-

ness? It is extremely difficult to navigate this when you are constantly reacting to the revolving door of employees. In addition, if you are in the business of creating a product, how can you produce enough products to meet demand without staff? You can’t. I see it often, companies turning off orders or turning down business. Decreases profit: When business owners are faced with mounting work and not enough employees, quick decisions become the norm. Making quick, reactive decisions might not be in the best interest of the longterm growth of the company and profits. We might pay more for services or delivery because we don’t have the time to go get them ourselves. We might not have time to analyze costs and instead buy what is easiest to receive. Meanwhile, we pay overtime to our current staff because we simply do not have enough. All these little reactions erode our profit margin. Increases burnout of owners:

Sadly, I am talking with more and more business owners that are frankly tired. They are starting to question if they can continue at this pace. If they don’t start finding dedicated staff, they are close to throwing in the towel. What a heartbreaking way to go out. Most of these business owners have passed the scary five-year mark, they have more business than they can handle, they offer an excellent product or service, but they just don’t have the right bodies to assist. What can today’s business owners do to start building sales and reducing costs when it comes to employee management? The first step is recognizing what we did before to recruit talent is not as effective and it is time for a new strategy to hiring. Jennifer Kok runs Next Wave Business Coaching and focuses on helping small business owners. She can be reached at or by calling (616) 821-9623. (616) 459-4545


(866) 660-6247

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MARCH 7, 2022


COVID-19 punches hole Performance and market forces drive company value in college enrollment I GUEST COLUMN Brooks Crankshaw

t’s the first question a small business owner thinks about when considering selling their business: “What is my company worth?” Generally, a company’s price depends on its size and performance, timing in the marketplace, a buyer’s appetite and a seller’s willingness to sell. The price varies over time depending on these and other factors. Tim Gerhardt, former owner of Allpoints, a commercial HVAC service company, describes his experience selling his company. “I began to get solicitations back in the early 2000s. Then, about 15 years ago, the calls stopped.” Remember that at around that time the U.S. was deep into the Great Recession. “About three years ago, the calls began again,” Gerhardt said. “The value I was offered was higher and the deal structures better than offers from before. I sold my business in 2020.” (Editor’s note: Balmoral participated in that sale as an adviser.) At that time, financial investors (for example, private equity funds) were amassing

large funds to make purchases, and service companies were attractive because of their steady cash flows. The same remains true today. These funds now have over $800 billion to invest, and this phenomenon plays a role in driving values higher.

“Still, owners are concerned about potential tax law changes that could take a bite out of sale proceeds. All want to take advantage of good prices still being offered to sellers.“

Note that many financial investors already own mid-sized companies and are growing their business through acquisitions. This is creating large service providers and manu-

facturers with resources and scale to quickly dominate any marketplace. Why would a company owner want to sell? In some cases, owners are ready to retire from the business having experienced multiple economic downturns, not to mention a pandemic. Others are finding it hard to compete with larger companies and their deep resources. Still, owners are concerned about potential tax law changes that could take a bite out of sale proceeds. All want to take advantage of good prices still being offered to sellers. For the time being, buyers remain interested in building their businesses through acquisitions, and sellers may need to act while the environment is still favorable. Company size and performance are critical to the value, in tandem with the market forces. Brooks Crankshaw is managing director of Balmoral Advisors, a specialized investment bank focused on advising owners on selling their companies. He can be reached at BCrankshaw@

MRLA forms hospitality industry training school CONTINUED FROM PAGE 3

credentials needed to advance in the industry,” Smith said. Students will work through the curriculum and supporting program. The in-person, instructor-led sessions also require various online assignments, while the strictly online format will be delivered 100% remotely. Some of the certifications require a proctor to administer the exam on-site, so a few in-person proctor field offices will be available in various areas of Michigan, Smith said. Additional classes will be available throughout the year. Smith said the teachers are subject-matter experts who hold certificates in the areas they will cover, and they all either have worked or currently work in the field. The apprenticeship programs, which are sponsored by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation or the American Hotel & Lodging Association Foundation, have three educational tracks for on-the-job learning and related training instruction: restaurant line cook or hotel apprenticeship, lodging manager and restaurant manager. All students will already have a job in the

industry and be working with their employer to complete their apprenticeship. “You can have somebody at an entry level or relatively new to the industry start off in one of those programs where, as they are going through their apprenticeship with their employer, we’re able to provide the related instructional design that they need to finish the apprenticeship, and so that’s one half of what we’re doing. Then the other one, the leadership certificates, are for people that are currently working in industry that want to upskill their talents and be better at management,” Smith said. She added the MRLA believes strong leadership is needed to help the industry reach its potential. “People always like to talk about the industry as a place for high turnover rates. (We’re a) firm believer in ‘people leave bosses, not jobs,’ and the better the leadership is within the organization, the more we can grow and retain talent,” she said. Courses in the leadership certificates will include training on unconscious bias and diversity, equity and inclusion; strategies to prevent sexual harassment; staff leadership best practices;

schedule-building; and supporting employees. Smith said anyone can attend the in-person Lansing cohort, not just Lansing-area professionals, and HTIM is planning to add future in-person cohorts in other cities once it determines where the demand is. Each cohort will be capped at 35 students, in line with the model set forth by ServSafe and other national training programs to ensure comprehensive instruction and one-on-one time. Smith said while she is not aware of any other similar training academies for the hospitality industry, MRLA followed the workforce development criteria set forth by Labor & Economic Opportunity for other industries so that the hospitality industry can better compete for talent. “The growth potential for this industry is pretty unlimited, and for people who are looking for (variety), you never do the same thing twice inside the hospitality industry; it’s an ever-changing environment, it’s (fast) paced, it’s one where people can really grow, and we want to share that so people realize how much opportunity there is,” Smith said. More about HTIM, including courses, fees and how to register, is available at


and where getting a degree can change lifetime and generational outcomes. The chances of these students getting into the most selective universities went up with the pandemic largely because of many colleges dropping college entrance exams scores as a major criterion in the admission process. But as Paul Tough writes in a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Her school offered a path to the middle class. Will COVID-19 block it?” far too many nonaffluent high school graduates who have the academic success needed to get into highly selective universities are not taking advantage of that life-changing opportunity because of the pandemic. They are either not enrolling at all or severely under-matching their academic skills with their choice of university. We have a moral obligation to the high school seniors who because of the pandemic have under-enrolled, dropped out or under-matched. In addition, there will be a deleterious effect on the Michigan economy for decades to come. The seven-figure lifetime earnings reduction from earning a high school degree

rather than a bachelor’s degree or more depresses spending at local businesses. And Michigan employers — already faced with too few high-skilled professionals and technicians — will be faced with even greater high-skill labor shortages. The good news here is we know what works to help all students enroll in and graduate from post-secondary education: high-quality college enrollment counseling, summer melt-prevention counseling, a suite of college completion services and financial support for expenses beyond tuition. In a time of unprecedented state budget surpluses and federal aid, restoring the dreams and improving the life chances of these high school students should be a state priority. We can and should provide direct financial support and the proven suite of support services to all students of the classes of 2020-2022 who did not enroll in college, dropped out, or under-matched. Doing less means that we will not realize our commitment to equal opportunity and upward economic mobility for all of Michigan’s children. Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Future Inc.





MARCH 7, 2022

Sports tourism pumps $55.5M into economy Bill halts local bans on natural gas hookups


41% compared to 2019 (10,441). Guswiler said some events that were scheduled for 2020 were hosted in other states that didn’t have the same restrictions in Michigan earlier in the year, but WMSC was able to reschedule some events for West Michigan, including the USA Masters Games and the Champion Force Cheer Nationals in 2021. In addition to the rebound of sporting events for 2021, Meijer became the new naming rights partner of the WMSC’s baseball/softball complex in Rockford. WMSC also extended its partnership with Meijer by 10 years to promote youth and amateur sports. Guswiler and his team are focused on increasing the number of traveling athletes and visitors and related hotel income, plus bidding on new events for 2022 and beyond. To ensure that happens, WMSC promoted Melissa Brink to marketing manager for WMSC. She was previously the marketing specialist for the organization’s signature Meijer State Games. In her new role, Brink will report to Guswiler and provide day-to-day marketing support for WMSC and its operating entities — State Games of Michigan, Meijer Sports Complex — by develop-

ing email marketing campaigns, overseeing marketing initiatives, designing graphics and creating and managing online content. WMSC also hired Conner Hicks as its national sales manager. He was the sales manager for Aimbridge Hospitality at the Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Airport, where he oversaw all group sales initiatives. WMSC also hired Alyssa Bey as event coordinator. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with a master’s degree in higher education and a bachelor’s degree in sports management. She served as a sports management graduate assistant and worked seasonally for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2021. A new hub was added in Marquette for outdoor snow sports events. “This will be another rebuilding year as we continue to build back our ratio of travel teams at the Meijer Sports Complex, increase the number of events and participating athletes with our signature Meijer State Games program, and win more new business bids that bring visiting athletes and fans,” Guswiler said. “In the meantime, we are excited to host some prestigious national events this year, including the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Na-

tional Championship returning to GVSU and the 2022 Junior Gold Bowling Championships, bringing 5,000 athletes to the area for three weeks. I am very optimistic about the future of sports tourism in West Michigan.” Signature events on the 2022 calendar so far include:

•West Michigan Futsal Cup (Feb. 4-6) •Meijer State Games – Winter Games (Feb. 18-20 – Grand Rapids; 25-27 – Marquette) •MHSAA Competitive Cheer Finals (March 4-5) •MHSAA Boys Swimming & Diving D3 Finals (March 11-12) •2022 Griff ’s Sled Hockey Classic (March 18-20) •Third Coast Fencing Cup (March 19) •USA Rhythmic Gymnastics 2022 Elite Qualifier (May 2022) •NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field National Championship (May 26) •MJVBA AAU Volleyball Tournament (June 3-5) •Meijer LPGA Classic (June 16-19) •2022 Junior Gold Championships (bowling) — youth U12-U20 (July 11-23) — first time for Grand Rapids to host •Beer City Open — APP Pickleball Tour (July 20-24) •Meijer Sports Complex

baseball/softball events (including nine by Game Day USA): •Game Day USA Pre-Season Championship (April 22) •USSSA/BATL for the West AA (April 29-May 1) •Game Day USA Super Regional (May 6-8) •BPA Husky Blowout Bash (May 13-15) •USSSA/BATL Military Families United Classic (May 20-22) •Game Day USA Stars N’ Strikes Showdown (May 27-29) •Game Day USA Rumble in the Rapids (June 3-5) •Game Day USA Silver Series Championship #1 (June 1012) and #2 (July 1-3) •Game Day USA State Championship (June 17-19) •Game Day USA Meijer State Games of Michigan (June 2326) •USSSA/BATL for the State Open (July 7-10) •Game Day USA National Championship (July 14-17) •Blue Chip Softball Summer Slam (July 14-17) •USSSA/BATL End of Summer Bash (July 21-24) •USA Softball of Michigan State Championship Men’s Class E (July 30-31) •ISSA Border Battle (Aug. 5-7) •Game Day USA All Star Tournament (Aug. 19-21)

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Measure would prevent municipalities from prohibiting use in new homes and businesses. Sydney Bowler

Capital News Service

LANSING — Banning natural gas hookups in new homes and businesses at the local level is the latest example of environmental extremism, according to Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, who proposes prohibiting local bans. However, a recent study by Stanford University found that methane leaking from stoves inside U.S. homes has the same adverse climate impact as about 500,000 gasoline-powered cars. Zorn’s new bill would preempt localities from imposing a ban on natural gas hookups. It would prevent counties, cities, villages and townships from prohibiting the use of natural gas in new homes and businesses. But critics of the bill say it would “anchor us in an old economy and link us to a climate future that everybody should find abhorrent,” according to Michigan Environmental Council President Conan Smith. Prohibiting new connections would help fight climate change by incorporating heat pumps for heating or finding more effective sources of renewable energy to create more sustainable communities, Smith said. Zorn said in a press release that his bill would protect homeowners by “stopping these dangerous policies, which have been adopted in cities from Seattle to New York City, from coming to Michigan.” “Not only is a piecemeal energy policy bad for our state, (but) banning the use of natural gas in homes without the electric infrastructure to replace it or assistance to help struggling families get new equipment is morally reprehensible,” he said. Since 2020, 20 states have passed similar laws to block local governments from banning the use of natural gas, according to the press release. According to Terry DeDoes, the senior public information director for Consumers Energy, bans on natural gas hookups would not be in the best interest of customers. “When it comes to potential bans, we need a thoughtful approach in the cold climate of Michigan, an approach that balances affordability for those customers who can least afford it,” he said. Last December, Consumers filed an updated version of its Natural Gas Delivery Plan with the Public Service Commission. CONTINUED ON PAGE 19


MARCH 7, 2022


Holland ranks first in quality of life among small cities Study that tracks financial and other trends lauds affordability, economic health. Anastasi Pirrami, Chloe Trofatter and Chloe West Capital News Service

As the rain settled on this beach city recently, lights illuminated shops and restaurants along West 8th Street in Holland and artifacts of Dutch culture appeared from City Hall to the Tulip Time Festival Center. This small city nestled off Lake Michigan ranks No. 1 in the state for quality of life in “Best Small Cities in America,” a study by WalletHub, a personal finance website that tracks financial and other trends. The study defined small cities as those with populations of 25,000100,000 people. Prompted by the increased population shift from large cities into smaller ones, WalletHub compared more than 1,300 cities on five measures of livability: quality of life, affordability, economic health, education & health, and safety. Quality of life was assessed by measures like average commute time, city walkability and number of bars, restaurants and cultural centers per capita. Holland, Kalamazoo, Flint, Muskegon and Saginaw ranked in the top five of 39 small Michigan cities for these quality-of-life measures. The lowest were Holt, Eastpointe, St. Clair Shores, Lincoln Park and Garden City. Downtown Holland has over 25 eateries — including restaurants, coffee shops and bars, according to the city’s website. Among them is Waverly Stone Gastropub, opened by Holland native Andy Westerlund in 2018. The young restaurant survived the pandemic in part because of the community, Westerlund said. Walkability is among the measures used to rank the quality of life in small cities. “I’ve lived here my whole life and that’s something that Holland has always had,” he said. “Even in 2008 when the economy was really bad, everyone kept it local and supported local businesses.” Holland also is internationally known for its Tulip Time Festival, an annual celebration of Dutch heritage and tulips in bloom with entertainment events and activities. Gwen Auwerda, the festival’s executive director, has organized the event since 2011 and is planning her 12th festival. Auwerda said she comes back every year for the people and her love of collaboration. “It’s really the people in the community and the volunteers that just come from wherever,” she said. “Many people have moved here because they came to Tulip Time or in the summer, and they’ve retired here or moved here with their families.” Such opportunities for cultural and community connection contributed to Holland’s rank. “There are all kinds of amenities that have been built up in this community that makes this place a wonderful experience year-round,”

Mayor Nathan Bocks said. Holland has a 5-mile network of heated sidewalks, Bocks said. “If you’re a walker or runner, you can do a 5-mile run on clean, dry sidewalks on the snowiest day of the year.” The city also has an extensive private and public park system in the downtown area. For example, Van Raalte Farm Park has 20 acres maintained for activities like hiking and skiing. Parks and Holland’s award-winning seasonal plantings — more than just tulips, but various annuals and perennials for spring, summer, fall and winter — are a result of citywide cooperation, Bocks said. “We partner with Hope College and local greenhouses and landscaping companies,” he said. “That’s just one example of a partnership between all of these different, connected-but-not-connected organizations saying, ‘How do we do things together to make this community a better place?’” City Manager Keith Van Beek said Holland’s population has had marginal growth over the last decade. That’s due, in part, to a trend of people leaving larger cities for more close-knit communities, Van Beek said. “What we’re finding is that we have a lot of people that (are) not so much reflected in the 2020 Census numbers,” he said, “but we absolutely are hearing stories every week of people that are moving to Holland from larger communities.” Heather Lewis, who is original-

ly from Brighton, did just that. “It’s quieter,” she said. “It’s definitely more family-focused here.” Lewis works part-time at Threads on 8th, a downtown women’s boutique. In her free time, she volunteers as a hairstylist at Benjamin’s Hope, a nonprofit that provides housing and care for adults with disabilities. Although Holland ranks high in quality of life according to WalletHub’s metrics, there’s room for improvement, said Arnold Weinfeld, Michigan State University’s associate director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. Weinfeld once worked with the Michigan Municipal League, an organization representing cities and villages. The group created a guide for place-making, a strategy for building community-centered public spaces and cities. The guide highlights eight essential elements for place-making, such as cultural economic development, education and public transit. It also emphasizes the importance of welcoming diversity and multiculturalism. Despite Holland’s culturally rich roots, it previously struggled with being open to diverse communities, Weinfeld said. “Holland itself has gotten very diverse, especially with Spanish populations,” he said. “Holland Township has grown, as there has been a bit of white flight from the city.” Weinfeld attests to the city’s

We’re big fans of people who look out for people. Congratulations to Krista Flynn for being named one of 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan. Hard work doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves, so when it makes a community better, we take notice. We appreciate all your efforts, and keep making us stronger.

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Holland’s annual Tulip Time Festival draws visitors from around the country and the world, and often is their first exposure to the lakeshore town. Courtesy iStock

connected and robust downtown. “As a visitor, I can see where it has a high quality of life, but I’m not sure it would fall under being a welcoming community, as it still has some racial divides it needs to conquer. “And not just racial divides, but human rights divides,” he said. In 2020, Holland expanded its anti-discrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community in matters such as housing, employment and public services. The city council originally shot down the proposed ordinance

in 2011, but Brocks championed it when he was elected mayor. Van Beek said the city’s focus on improvements includes adding to the parks, shops and waterfront attractions and addressing affordable housing and diversity, equity and inclusion problems. “We are in the business of making a place where people want to live, work, play and visit,” he said. “We just want to be a place that’s welcoming to everybody and, as our mayor says, that everyone can call home if they choose and want to be here.”

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MARCH 7, 2022


Workers needed, but older employees still face discrimination Bill halts is despite surlocal bans This veys that show they prompt and more on natural are reliable. gas hookups Hope O’Dell

Capital News Service


The 10-year, $12 billion longterm plan would upgrade and update natural gas operations, according to DeDoes. “The plan outlines a decade of investments, many already underway, to make our gas system even more safe, reliable, affordable and clean as we deliver the energy our 1.8 million customers rely on,” DeDoes said. “Those investments are focused on ‘hardening’ our system, not expanding it, because we expect the role of natural gas to continue evolving as technology advances and electrification expands,” he said. The Home Builders Association of Michigan supports Zorn’s stance, saying homebuyers should be able to continue to choose the energy that powers their homes, according to its vice president of government affairs and industry relations, Forrest Wall. Natural gas is a reliable and cost-effective way to power homes, he said. “The intent of the single state construction code act is to provide uniformity across the state for residential construction,” Wall said. “So, a patchwork of local ordinances that ban natural gas really undermines that intent.” Smith said environmentalists are not happy because Michigan still is using building code standards from 2015. “We’ve got to transform our current building infrastructure, which means getting millions of Michiganders to make investments in their homes that maybe they don’t have the finances for,” Smith said. “We’ve got to have contractors who are skilled in increasing the efficiency of a building envelope, and we’ve got to have new technologies in place for both cooking and heating.” He said the state has “a predilection for looking at things that progressive communities are doing, especially around the environment, and then stepping in and saying, ‘No, you’re not allowed to do that.’” Smith recalls when the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, which he was elected to, adopted a ban on single-use plastic bags to combat pollution and recycling problems. “The state stepped in, the Legislature passed and Gov. (Rick) Snyder signed to ban our ban. (He) said, ‘Nope, as the local government, thou shall not ban that,’” Smith said. Smith said there are no good long-term consequences when the hands of smaller units of government are tied, keeping them from innovation. The bill has been referred to the Senate Local Government Committee, which Zorn chairs.

LANSING — Paula Cunningham has retired twice. “Well, I transitioned twice,” she said. Cunningham was the president of Lansing Community College then the CEO of Capitol National Bank. She’s been the state director for AARP Michigan since 2015. She’s representative of many older Americans who want to stay in the workplace, even in the face of possible age discrimination. “Not only are people waiting longer to retire, but they’re going back to work after they retire,” Cunningham said. “They want to go back to work.” Close to one in three Americans in their 50s plan to postpone their retirement, and that number goes to one in five for those in their 60s, according to a January survey by SimplyWise, a retirement planning website. Those are the highest numbers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to AARP. As older Americans postpone retirement, the workforce ages. Among those 75 and older, the labor force is expected to grow by 96.5% by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But many older American workers are experiencing age discrimination, which is at its highest since 2003. According to AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age bias on the job. In Michigan, 2,489 age discrimination claims were made with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017. This makes Michigan — which has the ninth-largest population — 12th in the nation for claims made. In mid-January, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a Saginaw County case filed by a former human resources department employee who was turned down at age 60 when she applied for a different position. Coventry Medical Center hired a younger applicant instead. A jury awarded Denise Doster $540,269 in damages, but a Court of Appeals panel threw out the verdict. Now Doster wants the Supreme Court to reinstate the award. AARP, whose members are 50 or older, runs a program to help older applicants bypass discriminatory employers. Meanwhile, many older workers are calling for more legal protections, including a tougher federal law. Discrimination often takes the form of comments pushing an older employee to retire or expressing the desire for a younger employee, said Jennifer Salvatore, a Detroit-based civil rights lawyer. It also can include choosing a younger job applicant over an older one because of their age. In an extreme case, Salvatore said an em-

ployer set an illegal policy requiring employees to retire at 59½. “In some ways, I feel like it’s almost more socially acceptable for people to discriminate based on age than it is to discriminate based on race or gender,” Salvatore said. “You hear more comments, you hear more direct evidence of age discrimination than you do other types of discrimination.” Michigan AARP and Michigan Works! run a program where employers can list a job opening and an application is emailed to AARP Michigan’s 1.3 million members. AARP also hosts hiring events where employers and applicants can meet. Cunningham said those employers know beforehand that applicants are older, which helps prevent discrimination. The program was piloted in 2019 in Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit — 74 people were hired during that pilot run. After that, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the program to virtual. There are more than 100,000 unfilled jobs in Michigan, according to Pure Michigan Talent Connect. Older Michigan residents can help fill these vacancies, Cunningham said, and bring more experience to the table. “The data has shown over and over and over again that older adults are more reliable,” Cunningham said. “They come to work on time, they stay all day. They don’t have drama. They’re great mentors for younger people in the workplace, so we need to get them connected” to employers.

Older workers tend to be more reliable and show up to work more consistently, according to a 2018 study in the academic journal “Revista De Gestão.” There are federal and state laws protecting older workers. At the federal level, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects those who are 40 and older. In Michigan, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects older residents. But 96% of older workers said laws to combat age discrimination should be stronger, according to a 2020 AARP survey. Salvatore said that the trend toward mandatory arbitration of disputes hurts all workers, including those who experience age discrimination. That means that employees sign a policy waiving their right for disputes to be heard in court by a jury rather than by an arbitrator who is often more likely to be pro-employer. To strengthen protections for older workers, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in November that would make clear that job applicants are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Senate passage is uncertain due to a lack of Republican support, according to an article in Forbes. If age discrimination is curbed, older workers can help fill the current labor gap, Cunningham said. “For every job that’s unfilled, it impacts our economy. People are not going to the movies (or) going to dinner because they’re not working,” she said. “It is a real issue for the state of Michigan.”


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Rebecca Luong has joined The Mill at Vicksburg as director of design to serve as the liaison between the ownership and consultant teams. Luong most recently served as hospitality practice area leader for Gensler in Seattle, a global architecture, design and planning firm.


Kent District Library welcomed Jennifer DeVault as director of library operations.



OST, a digital IT consultancy, received the DEI Champion of the Year designation at the annual EPIC Awards Gala hosted by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

Steve Heacock, retired chair of the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, is the recipient of the Grand RapidsKent County Convention/Arena Authority’s Chairman’s Award. Heacock is currently President/CEO of Grand Rapids Whitewater. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport is the recipient of the Airports Council International-North America’s 2021 Excellence in Airport Marketing, Communications and Customer Experience Award. Workbox Staffing was honored with a 2021 American Staffing Association Care Award for its social responsibility initiatives that produce an overall positive effect on society among ASA member staffing agencies, associate members and staffing industry suppliers.


Boomer Hoppough joined Independent Bank’s mortgage team. Hoppough has been with Independent Bank for nearly 17 years, previously as vice president, community business banker in the West Michigan market.

MAR 12, 19, 26 Grand Rapids Public Museum Investigation Education Classes. For kids ages 8 and older. Small group, hands-on educational classes investigating science and history. Saturdays, 10:30-11:45 a.m., GRPM. Registration/ information: MAR 7 World Affairs Council of Western Michigan Great Decisions Series. Topic is People in Transition: Examining Global Demographic Changes, by Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew Research Institute. 6-7:15 p.m. in-person, Grand Rapids Community College Winser-Bottrail Applied Technology Center, 151 Fountain St. NE or virtually. Registration/information: MAR 9 Culinary Conversations Seminar. Topic is Female Food Industry Leaders. Gain insights from four accomplished West Michigan female food industry leaders. 5-7:30 p.m., Grand Rapids Downtown Market, 435 Ionia Ave. SW. Cost: free. Registration/information: MAR 9 Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce 4th Community Connections Event. An opportunity for local nonprofits to feature the services they provide and connect with young and seasoned professionals eager to learn how to become more engaged in the Holland/Zeeland community. 4:30-6:30 p.m., Compassionate Heart Ministries. Cost: free. Registration/information: (616) 392-2389 or

Third generation assumes ownership of construction company Kyle Vander Kodde has purchased Vander Kodde Construction from his father and uncle, Tim and Tom Vander Kodde. Kyle Vander Kodde took the reins from his uncle and former president Tom Vander Kodde, who retired at the end of 2021, and assumes the role of both owner and president. Tim Vander Kodde will continue as vice president. Kyle started his career with Vander Kodde Construction in 2001, where he worked as a project manager. In 2008, he started his own real estate investment and property management firm alongside two business partners. William Vander Kodde, Kyle’s grandfather, founded Vander Kodde Construction in 1970.

ChoiceOne Financial Services Inc. announced the retirement of chairman Paul Johnson from the boards of directors of ChoiceOne and ChoiceOne Bank. Jack Hendon has been appointed chairman of both boards, and Bradley McGinnis has been appointed to the ChoiceOne board in addition to his service on the ChoiceOne Bank board. Dana Bacon joined Union Bank as vice president, treasury management director. West Michigan Community Bank hired Andrew Lebron as vice president treasury management officer. Lebron is a Certified Treasury Professional with 14 years of banking experience, nine of which have been focused in treasury management.


Spring Lake-based EQI Ltd. acquired Industrial Paint Solutions, a supplier of repair, VMI and finish painting services located in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. Supply Chain Solutions named its former COO, Dave Whittaker, as president. Wayland-based Windemuller announced Steve Alles is the company’s new president, succeeding Dave Beemer.

MAR 10 Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Business Exchange Luncheon. Providing members and future members with facilitated networking. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health, 333 Michigan St. NE. Cost: $35/nonmembers, $50/ nonmembers. Registration/information: MAR 10 GR Savvy Seniors Learning Series. Topic is Financial Savvy: Planning Ahead for Peace of Mind. For all ages. 1-2:30 p.m., Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, 1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE. Cost: free. Registration/information: bit. ly/seniorpeaceofmind. MAR 10 St. Cecilia Music Center Concert. Tony award-winning actress and Grammy-winning jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater with Grammy-winning jazz pianist Bill Charlap. 7:30 p.m., St. Cecilia Music Center Royce Auditorium. Cost: $50-$55. Registration/information: (616) 459-2224 or MAR 10 Women’s Resource Center 32nd Annual Pillar Awards Luncheon. Honoring HR Collaborative and Kent County government offices. 11:30 a.m.1 p.m., JW Marriot, 235 Louis St. NW. Cost: $75/in-person or virtual, $850/ table 10 in-person. Registration/information: (616) 458-5443 or pillar/. MAR 14 World Affairs Council of Western Michigan Great Decisions Series.


Nonprofit film production school Compass College of Film & Media hired Todd Staal as vice president of operations. In the newly created role, Staal will oversee the college’s ongoing day-to-day operations with a goal of improving the overall student experience, analyzing operational performance, business planning, and assisting staff to achieve common goals and shared success.


Michigan Capital Network announced the addition of Diane Durance as executive vice president.


The city of Kentwood promoted deputy police chief Bryan Litwin to chief of the Kentwood Police Department. Litwin succeeds retired police chief Richard Roberts.


The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven announced it has received a $55,000 grant from Entergy toward its Launching a Legacy capital campaign for more space to house its exhibits, classrooms and multifunctional spaces. Construction of the new building, the Maritime Heritage Center, has begun with an expected completion date of summer 2022. West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce received a $50,000 two-

Topic is India and the Quad Alliance, by Robert Rossow, Center for Strategic and International Studies. 6-7:15 p.m. in-person, Grand Rapids Community College Winser-Bottrail Applied Technology Center, 151 Fountain St. NE or virtually. Registration/information: MAR 15 Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce West Michigan Minority Contractors After Hours. 3:30-5 p.m., Center for Community Transformation, 1530 Madison Ave. SE. Cost: free/members, $25/nonmembers. Registration/information: Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce Happy Hour. 4:30-6 p.m., Brew Merchant, 442 Washington Ave., Holland. Registration/information: (616) 928-9103 or hannah@westcoastchamber. org. MAR 18-20 Kohler West Michigan Women’s Expo. Tailored to women and their families. DeVos Place, 303 Monroe Ave. NW. March 18, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; March 19, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; March 20, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Cost: $11/adults, ages 15 and up; $9/children, ages 6-14. Registration/information: MAR 21 Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce Advocacy In Action. Know the current issues that affect you and your business, with Sens. Roger Victory and Aric Nesbitt and Reps. Mary Whiteford, Jim Lily, Brad Slagh and Luke Meerman. 8-9 a.m., Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant,

CHANGE-UPS & CALENDAR Kent Country Club hired Brenton Dykstra as controller and Jason Brower as director of membership and communications.

year grant from Bank of America toward executive leadership coaching delivered by national experts in the nonprofit sector. The bank also awarded WMHCC a $100,000 grant to further advance economic opportunity for Hispanicowned small businesses that will enable them to develop a strong Latino talent pipeline and create employment opportunities.




Mercy Health Saint Mary’s was named a Top Teaching Hospital nationally by The Leapfrog Group, a national watchdog organization of employers and other purchasers recognized as the toughest standard-setters for health care safety and quality.

United Methodist Retirement Communities & Porter Hills announced the retirement of its chief operating officer, Lori Potter. Nicole Maag is now chief of residential services and Luke Reynolds is chief of home and community based services for UMRC & Porter Hills.

Hope Network announced the addition of Heather Bunting, M.D. Bunting will serve as a primary care and addiction medicine physician for Hope Network’s Center For Recovery.


Jessica L. Yon, creative marketing and content manager for Warner Norcross + Judd LLP, has been named among Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s Unsung Heroes for 2021. The award is reserved for the state’s most talented and dediYon cated legal support professionals. Yon is recognized in the legal marketing category.


Critter Barn in Zeeland, an educational farm dedicated to teaching about farming and agriculture for people of all ages and all abilities, was awarded a grant as part of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation National Paralysis Resource Center 2021 2nd Cycle Direct Effect Quality of Life grants. Critter Barn will use the grant for purchasing seven adaptive tricycles and five activity chairs with trays from the Rifton Equipment Company, which specializes in designing and producing adaptive equipment for persons with disabilities.

216 Van Raalte Ave., Holland. Cost: $35/members, $50/nonmembers. Registration/information: (616) 9289103 or MAR 21 World Affairs Council of Western Michigan Great Decisions Series. Topic is Creating a Just Transition in Climate Change Policy, by Vonda Brunsting, Institute for Responsible Investment, Harvard University 6-7:15 p.m. in-person, Grand Rapids Community College Winser-Bottrail Applied Technology Center, 151 Fountain St. NE or virtually. Registration/information: worldmichigan. org/greatdecisions22. MAR 22 Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Create Great Policy Health Care and Human Resources Summit. Featuring health care leaders and reform experts presenting facts on the future of health care and sharing options for businesses. 7:30-11 a.m., Calvin University Prince Conference Center, 1800 E. Beltline Ave. SE. Cost: $125/members, $150/ nonmembers. Registration/information: MAR 24 BIFMA Learning Series. Topic is Demystifying Furniture’s Role In Sustainability (accredited CEU). Noon1 p.m. Registration/information: bit. ly/2022SustainableFurniture. MAR 24 Family Promise of Grand Rapids Woven Together Dreams Dinner. 5:30 p.m., 401 Hall St. SW, Studio D2D. Cost: $75/person. RSVP by March 1 at

Lacks Enterprises Inc. announced John Kennedy and Darren R. Jackson are co-chairs of its board of directors and Dan Bowen has joined the board. Ana Jose joined Michigan Women Forward as business development director and Kristin Rahn-Tiemeyer was hired as vice president of fund development.


The West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America announced its 2022 officers and board members who were elected to its 15-member board of directors. Officers: President – Andria Romkema, The Right Place Inc.; President Elect – Kristen KruegerCorrado, Grand Rapids Public Library; Secretary –Adrienne Wallace, GVSU and BlackTruck Media + Marketing; Treasurer – Jessica Meldrum, Grand Rapids Ballet and GVSU; and Past President – Kim Skeltis, Blue Blaze Public Relations. Board members: Lina Lintemuth, Development Counsellors International; Delaney MacKenzie, BlackTruck Media + Marketing; Sara Strohschein, Karen Campbell Media; and Christine VanTimmeren, DDM Marketing & Communications CHANGE-UPS POLICY: The Business Journal welcomes submissions to the Change-Ups section. Send announcements concerning personnel changes, new businesses, changes of address etc. to Change-Ups Editor, Grand Rapids Business Journal, 401 Hall St. SW, Suite 331, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 or email

MAR 24 Grand Rapids Public Library/Mercy Health program for people 65-plus. Topic is Decreased Appetite, Nutrition and Fall Prevention. 11 a.m., Main Library, 111 Library St. NE. Registration/information: MAR 24 The Institute for Supply Management Greater Grand Rapids 19th Annual Supply Chain Management Conference. 8 a.m.-1 p.m., GVSU L.V. Eberhard Center, 301 W. Fulton St. Registration/information: MAR 28 World Affairs Council of Western Michigan Great Decisions Series. Topic is Biden’s Foreign Policy: How It Started and Where It's Going, by Elizabeth Shackleford, Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs. 6-7:15 p.m. in-person, Grand Rapids Community College Winser-Bottrail Applied Technology Center, 151 Fountain St. NE or virtually. Registration/information: CALENDAR POLICY: The Business Journal welcomes submissions to the calendar section. Send items to Calendar Editor, Grand Rapids Business Journal, 401 Hall St. SW, Suite 331, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 or email bjcal Submissions must be received at least three weeks prior to the event. The Business Journal calendar posted on the publication’s website ( includes listings for events extended beyond those printed in the weekly publication that are limited by space restrictions.


Selected mortgages filed with Kent County Register of Deeds RAIR PROPERTIES LOWELL LLC, Citizens Bank, Lowell, $3,000,000 HERITAGE ASSOCIATES LLC, Macatawa Bank, Parcel: 411327127051, $1,300,000 MJB CAPITAL LLC, Finance of America Mortgage, Parcel: 411323433015, $1,001,600 T BOSGRAAF HOMES LLC, Huntington National Bank, Byron Twp., $387,100 REDSTONE LAND DEVELOPMENT LLC, West Michigan Community Bank, Kentwood, $1,200,000 DDC HOLDINGS LLC, Michigan Certified Development Corp., Walker, $807,000 DESIGN MANAGEMENT GROUP LLC, Fifth Third Bank, Walker, $5,053,000 PORT VIEW FLATS LLC, West Michigan Community Bank, Caledonia, $3,600,000 CLIFFORD PROPERTIES LLC, Bloom Credit Union, Cedar Springs, $750,000 HERITAGE PLACE APARTMENTS LLC, Arbor Agency Lending, Grand Rapids, $11,990,000 DISTRIBUTION PROPERTIES II LLC, Huntington National Bank, Byron Twp., $7,220,000 KOETJE INVESTORS CHATEAU LLC, Macatawa Bank, Wyoming, $6,000,000 3630 CLYDE PARK LLC, Bank of George, Wyoming, $3,549,300 DU REAL ESTATE LLC, InBank, Walker, $1,396,766 GWCC HOLDINGS LLC, Greenstone Farm Credit Services, Alpine Twp., $1,177,087 487 LINCOLN LAKE ROAD LLC, Mercantile Bank, Vergennes Twp., $1,379,671 LAETHEM, Blake et al, Neighborhood Loans, Cascade Twp., $628,761 HOXWORTH, Jeffrey T., Mercantile Bank, Lowell, $356,000 REIMBOLD, Neil B. et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Plainfield Twp., $442,000 WILLARD, Brandon E. et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Algoma Twp., $356,000 GIBLETT TRUST, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Ada Twp., $1,376,000 VANDENTOORN, Peter et al, ChoiceOne Bank, Parcel: 411414127006, $480,000 BROWN, Mark C., Lake Michigan Credit Union, East Grand Rapids, $418,475 PITHER, John, Mercantile Bank, Parcel: 411414127023, $548,000 KOHANE, Christopher J., Lake Michigan Credit Union, Algoma Twp., $360,000 BRAY, William J. III et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Ada Twp., $742,500 KALO, Jason P. et al, Rocket Mortgage, Vergennes Twp., $517,500 HESSLER, Michael T., Federal Savings Bank, Parcel: 411411477037, $916,000 MORRILL, Brian D. et al, Bank of America, Lowell, $417,300 NSHIME, Bertil et al, United Wholesale Mortgage, Kentwood, $351,500 VANOTTEREN, Daniel et al, Neighborhood Loans, Caledonia, $380,000 AHLBERG, Nicholas, Lake Michigan Credit Union, East Grand Rapids, $647,200 ASLANIAN-NAMAGERDI, Medvin et al, Finance of America Mortgage, Cannon Twp., $568,000 KNOERL, Paul H. et al, Huntington National Bank, Grattan Twp., $357,400 ZORKOT, Wafaa et al, United Wholesale Mortgage, Cascade Twp., $370,000 CHAMBERLIN, Joseph et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Cascade Twp., $1,115,000

GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL DEWEY, Raymond D. et al, Adventure Credit Union, Cannon Twp., $376,000 ARIAS, Louis et al, United Wholesale Mortgage, Cascade Twp., $490,000 VORUGANTI, Srinivas et al, Old National Bank, Parcel: 411412276050, $378,950 CARLTON, Caleb et al, Ruoff Mortgage Co., Vergennes Twp., $372,305 KENNEDY, Thomas F. et al, JPMorgan Chase Bank, East Grand Rapids, $381,443 BREW, Scott T. et al, Huntington National Bank, East Grand Rapids, $412,350 COLE, William L., Union Home Mortgage Corp., Cascade Twp., $647,000 BALLARD, Christopher et al, Union Home Mortgage Corp., Cascade Twp., $440,000 TERPSTRA, Rachel et al, Bank of America, Bowne Twp., $612,000 ELLIS, Kristopher et al, Neighborhood Loans, East Grand Rapids, $645,300 EDWARDS TRUST, Huntington National Bank, Courtland Twp., $425,000 WIERSMA, Marcus C. et al, Neighborhood Loans, Cannon Twp., $408,500 EFTING, Bradley J. et al, VanDyk Mortgage Corp., Cascade Twp., $358,000 REED, Steven M., Lake Michigan Credit Union, Bowne Twp., $485,000 QUADA, Brett M. et al, NBKC Bank, Vergennes Twp., $548,000 LEHMAN, Jeremy et al, North American Savings Bank, Parcel: 411428401045, $1,476,000 PACKARD TRUST, Dart Bank, Cannon Twp., $564,000 VANDERPLOEG, Amy K. et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Parcel: 411809426008, $428,925 STOEPKER, Ryan et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Gaines Twp., $400,000 VIJAY, Madhumita et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Parcel: 411411477057, $680,967 BEECHLER, Jeremy et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Plainfield Twp., $508,000 CROUCH, Monique et al, Finance of America Mortgage, Algoma Twp., $440,000 TOTTEN, Brandon et al, Northpointe Bank, Plainfield Twp., $575,000 MOONDRA, Inderjit S. et al, Oak Mortgage, Cascade Twp., $405,000 SHREE PIAJI CORP., Home Loan Investment Bank, Cascade Twp., $4,725,000 RIEFEPETERS, Brian D. et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Cascade Twp., $500,000 TYSON, Michael et al, Rocket Mortgage, Caledonia, $393,576 GILL, Brian F. et al, Benchmark Mortgage, Plainfield Twp., $400,000 LIESKE, Charles H. et al, Arbor Financial Credit Union, Gaines Twp, $375,800 POTTER, Darrell et al, Wells Fargo Bank, Caledonia, $495,200 SHANTZ, Bren et al, Mercantile Bank, Cannon Twp., $388,000 SCHAEFFER, Robert, Northpointe Bank, Parcel: 411324453094, $389,405 MARTINEZ, Manuel et al, Huntington National Bank, Wyoming, $602,400 KWEKEL, Daniel et al, Independent Bank, Nelson Twp., $477,100 BUSMAN, Meredith J., Lake Michigan Credit Union, Parcel: 411432476001, $370,000 PULLEY TRUST, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Courtland Twp., $753,000 ROSARIO, Andy et al, Old National Bank, Byron Twp., $885,000 WHIPPLE, Zachary et al, West

Michigan Community Bank, Walker, $416,900 RICHARDSON, Cameron et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Cascade Twp., $599,999 BARTELS, Michael et al, Old National Bank, Cascade Twp., $540,000 LE, Thanh et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Kentwood, $383,250 OFIELD, Jay W. et al, United Wholesale Mortgage, Ada Twp., $622,495 SPENCER, Wesley et al, United Wholesale Mortgage, Algoma Twp., $400,000 WYNSMA TRUST, United Bank, Walker, $1,766,63 HUGHES, Michelle R., Home Point Financial Corp., Algoma Twp., $356,000 LAPENNA, William F., Freedom Mortgage Corp., Ada Twp., $389,000 SUIDINSKI, Scott A. et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Plainfield Twp., $362,200 STONG, Timothy, NBKC Bank, Alpine Twp., $647,000 749 OLYMPIA LLC et al, West Michigan Community Bank, $600,000 MCKENZIE, Joseph P. et al, West Michigan Community Bank, Cascade Twp., $473,000 NITZ, Marc W. et al, Marshall Community Credit Union, Byron Twp., $440,000 BOLLMAN, Nancy G. et al, Isabella Bank, Tyrone Twp., $360,000 HANCOCK, Thomas et al, Neighborhood Loans, Cannon Twp., $580,500 JOHNSON, Richard et al, United Wholesale Mortgage, Byron Twp., $424,100 TYRRELL, Patrick B. et al, Rocket Mortgage, Cascade Twp., $569,800 MOONS, David et al, Rocket Mortgage, East Grand Rapids, $457,300 SCHAFF, John H. Jr. et al, Raymond James Bank, Ada Twp., $1,250,000 KELLY-FOWLER TRUST, HUD, Parcel: 411315455017, $412,500 HOWARD, Kathleen A., Huntington National Bank, Cascade Twp., $750,000 TRIGGS, Amy D. et al, Loandepot. com, Gaines Twp., $352,000 BAAR, Nathan et al, Mercantile Bank, Cannon Twp., $434,900 JESTER, Ian M. et al, Better Mortgage Corp., Ada Twp., $496,000 RADEMACHER, Amanda, Fifth Third Bank, Courtland Twp., $1,707,300 FELTEN, Andrew, Eaton Community Bank, Parcel: 411430180010, $900,000 10130 BAKER LLC, Stillwater Capital LLC et al, Bowne Twp., $566,661 BROWN, Andrew D., Rocket Mortgage, Parcel: 411804254013, $460,000 SARSAM TRUST, PNC Bank, Ada Twp., $749,500 YANG, Baokang, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Cascade Twp., $390,000 HUNTLEY, Albert W. Jr., Sidney State Bank, Spencer Twp., $350,000 OLIVER, Oliver et al, Supreme Lending, Algoma Twp., $397,650 DZINGLE, Jeremy et al, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Courtland Twp., $500,000 SUING, Mitchell et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Cannon Twp., $464,075 GOSS, Steven S. et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Cannon Twp., $735,000 LIM, Emerson et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Parcel: 411805458012, $775,200 SINGH, Balkar et al, Level One Bank, Cascade Twp, $500,000 PAYNE, Sean M. et al, Guaranteed Rate, Cascade Twp., $412,000 POMEROY, Nathan et al, Quicken Loans, Ada Twp., $367,500 BRECHTING, Kevin et al, Mercantile Bank, Parcel: 411531126144,

$1,110,000 KELLY TRUST, Old National Bank, Parcel: 411432481005, $426,000 KNAPP, Kevin R. et al, Grand River Bank, Byron Twp., $398,000 KREUGER, Francis A. Jr. et al, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Cannon Twp., $733,539 SNYDER, Patrick A. et al, Arbor Financial Credit Union, Byron Twp., $365,600 EASLICK, Nicholas A., Loan Store, East Grand Rapids, $440,000 PITTS, Jarrad, Neighborhood Loans, Plainfield Twp., $364,325 DELZER TRUST, United Wholesale Mortgage, Wyoming, $540,000 SZMANSKI, Robert et al, Rocket Mortgage, Cannon Twp., $372,000 SEKULICH, Michael P. et al, Huntington National Bank, East Grand Rapids, $388,500


Co-partnerships filed with the Kent County Clerk

GARCIA’S FLOORING SOLUTIONS, 925 Nagold NW, Delores Garcia Manuel, Jose Garcia


ABYRIDE, 31 Buckingham SW, Sadiki Rukara ATERNATIVE SCREEN, 107 Fontenelle SE, James J. Murray ART AS RESPONSA, P.O. Box 261, Marsha Plafkin BABY DOLLS, 1920 Millbank SE, Rochell A. Mosley BLUE DOLPHIN AUTO SALES, 39 52nd St. SE, Kentwood, Deysi A. Banegas CALL ME CLEANER, 425 College SE, Tammi R. Hancock CENTURION APPAREL, 110 Sweet Meadow Drive, Kent City, Jason Ward CLEARSTONE CLEANING, 3358 Byron Center SW, Wyoming, Luke M. Hotwagner COZY GOLDEN DESIGN CO., 4729 Bonneville NE, Catherine L. Cross DCCCXLVI, 972 28th St. SW, Wyoming, Stacey L. Mayweather DEAD WOOD TREE SERVICE & REMOVAL, 5059 Cisne SW, Wyoming, Encarnacion Rios Jr. D PIMPLETON MUSIC, 1875 Greenleaf Court SE, Darius Pimpleton D R A F T WO R KS B E V E R AG E CONSULTING, 366 Scott NW, Matthew Pratt EL PORTO’S NUTRITION, 4836 S. Division, Jose M. Sarmiento Ortega GENERATIONAL FLAVORS POUR THROUGH ME, 1920 Millbank SE, Rochell A. Mosley GHI CONSTRUCTION, 1126 Fremont NW, Javier Lozano GOLDSTAR FARM, 1784 Biggs, Lowell, Mark Richmond ITS PROPER PLACE, 7212 Thornapple River SE, Ada, Ashley E. Swanson LAWN KINGS, 3531 Clyde Park SW, Wyoming, Canales K. Aboosamra LIONARDO ART STUDIO, 3531 43rd SE, Julie R. Dugger MARY E ANDERSON FINE ART, 418 Grand NE, Mary E. Andersen NEX GEN LAWN AND LANDSCAPE, 4926 Buchanan SW, Bryan M. Stahle NORTHWOOD INTERIORS, 8772 66th St. SE, Alto, Kyle A. Ziegler ONE LOTUS SPA, 2921 Eastern SE, Thomas J. Pravato PERFECT 10 NAILS, 3527 Alpine NW, Walker, Hieu T. Tran, Lan H. Tran PHILIP C. CHANDLER CPA, 6299 Montmorency, Caledonia, Philip C. Chandler QUALITY BUILDING, 10 Garland SE, Kentwood, Bradley P. Easterline REBECCA FALARDEAU ART STUDIO, 7250 Decosta NE, Rockford, Rebecca Falardeau ROGUE RIVER PRODUCTS, 1971 East Beltline NE, Lucas Slagell ROZEMA CONSULTING, 10420 Shaner NE, Rockford, Heidi M.

MARCH 7, 2022


Rozema SELF CARE MASSAGE THERAPY, 1942 Fawnwood Court SE, Kentwood, Russel A. Cabasaan STEPH PHELPS MASSAGE, 15191 Ritchie NE, Cedar Springs, Stephanie B. Phelps STYLISTIC CREATIONS, 4755 Little Harbor Drive SE, Tammy Keith T&G TRANSPORT, 3825 Suburban Shores NE, Guthrie K. Wood TAILOR MAIDS, 508 W. Main, Lowell, Kathryn Atwood THE DUNGEON TRAINING HALL, 560 Oakland, Jerrod C. Roberts THICK THREADS BOUTIQUE, 3417 Misty Lane Court SE, Heather A. Win TJ’S WAREHOUSE, 1131 Leonard NW, Theodore J. King TRIXIE INK, 876 Grandville SW, Destiny P. Ackerman WAC PRODUCTIONS, 3358 Las Vegas NE, Belmont, William Colin WEESIE WOODWORKING, 7150 W. Garbow, Middleville, Grant C. Weesie ALVT TOWING, 733 McKendrick, Victor Carmona Hernandez BLONDE MOMENTS, 4955 N. Valley NE, Susan L. Morrow BLP ENGINEERING, 978 61st St. SE, Kentwood, Brian Potter CLAIRE BODE ACADEMIC EDITING, 1241 Bates SE, Clarie N. Bode COME BACK SEASONING, 551 Ether SE, Shari A. Grant CONSTITUTIONAL CIVILITY CENTER, 4911 N. Lakeshore, Holland, Elizabeth N. Lee CPK DAY CARE, 1968 18 Mile NE, Cedar Springs, Amanda McQueen E.M. TRUCKING CO., 390 Hayes NE, Edward J. Hendler EQUITY STORIES, 1110 Wealthy SE, Rodney D. Brown FIGHT FOR GR.ORG, 3038 Yorkland NW, William V. Benson Jr. FLAVORS SMOKE SHOP, 2332 S. Division, Douglas L. Williams Jr. GRAND DESIGN PUBLIC RELATIONS, 1110 Wealthy SE, Rodney D. Brown GRAND RAPIDS BLACK RENAISSANCE, 1110 Wealthy SE, Rodney D. Brown GRASSROOTS UP INITIATIVE, 1110 Wealthy SE, Rodney D. Brown J. PLANKS HOME REPAIR, 8410 Oakview NE, Rockford, Jonathan W. Plank JAY’S ENTERPRISES, 7419 Black Pine, Cedar Springs, January Estrada KETY STUDIO, 19990 Big John Court, Kent City, Sara M. Larson LIL FARM, 6076 S. Cannonsburg Road NE, Belmont, Blake T. Gardner LIVVY LOOSE EMBROIDERY, 6975 Willard SE, Olivia Langworthy MERCEDES DESIGN & GALLERY ON THE GREEN, 7052 Kalamazoo SE, Mercedes N. Ebbers MITTEN VENTURES, 8321 Atlanta NE, Rockford, Stacy J. Robinson NEIKO’S FENCING & LANDSCAPING, 2130 Lafayette NE, Neiko P. Guillory NOBOA ESSENTIALS, 2713 Rockwood Court SW, Katiuska Noboa PEACHY ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANING SERVICES, 310 Eola SE, Kimberly L. Guydon RCD DIRECT, 6855 Two Mile NE, Ada, Roger W. Davis REACH OUT WITH TLC, 1595 Paul R. St. SE, Arthur E. Treadwell SARA YOUNGMAN CREATIONS, 2871 Botsford Place NE, Sara Youngman THE ART OF SCRUB BY B., 5907 Freeton SE, Kentwood, Brandi D. Gordon THE TATLAN GROUP, 4880 36th St., Larry Andreano W.S. SERVICES, 9135 Lake Michigan Drive, Allendale, Shayne Slanger

PUBLIC RECORD AVAILABLE ONLINE: For the full version of this week’s Public Record, visit the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s website at



MARCH 7, 2022

Prescription for prescriptions SXSW.


ichigan would join a growing number of states tackling the rising costs of prescription drugs by creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board under bicameral legislation introduced recently. “The cost of prescription drugs has been rising for far too long. Establishing a Michigan Prescription Drug Affordability Board can directly reduce costs because it will act with the necessary oversight and transparency to do so,” said Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). “The legislation … is a key component to helping those most at the mercy of these high prices — consumers — as well as other actors in the prescription drug supply chain who play a role in the final price we pay. Ultimately, this will rein in exorbitant prices and help get these prescription drugs to more people who need them.” The legislation is a several-piece package. Bills introduced by Brinks and Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) would establish drug affordability review boards to determine certain rates, set spending targets and limit how much residents pay for certain high-cost drugs. Bills sponsored by Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit) and Rep. David LaGrand (R-Grand


Rapids) would amend the state’s insurance code. Measures sponsored by Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) and Rep. Kevin Hertel (DSt. Clair Shores) would amend the Social Welfare Act. And finally, bills advanced by Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy) would allow the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services director to decide how much to increase the fees by, with the difference being used to cover the administrative costs of the board. “To have some peace of mind when it comes to the cost of prescription drugs, regardless of whether you have insurance or not, would be of great benefit to myself and millions of other Americans,” said Sheila Nicholas, an Okemos resident. “Our prescriptions are necessary to our well-being. They should not be so unattainable for so many.” Maryland was the first state in the country to adopt a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. Other states — including Colorado, New Jersey, and now Michigan — are introducing legislation to establish such a board. “Too many families are dealing with what they will sacrifice in order to pay for the high cost

of prescription drugs,” Camilleri said. “Michigan families shouldn’t be forced to make those tradeoffs. We can have affordable prescription drugs if we focus on solutions like this board.” “Physicians know the medications we prescribe will improve the health of a patient and potentially save their lives, yet cost remains a major barrier in people obtaining those needed medications,” added family medicine specialist Harshini Jayasuriya, M.D. “Patients shouldn’t have to choose between the medicines they need and paying for other bills, groceries and rent. Michiganders need real relief and I applaud this group of lawmakers for tackling prescription drug affordability head on.” PAY IT FORWARD Hope College President Matthew Scogin and the Hope Forward initiative will take the national stage this spring during the South by Southwest (SXSW) EDU Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas. Only 180 presentations were chosen out of more than 800 applications for this year’s event, which will run Monday-Thursday, March 7-10. Scogin will present “Hope Forward: College Without Tuition” on the Business and In-


vestment track in the event’s Future20 format at 12:30 p.m. (CST), Wednesday, March 9. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to participate in South by Southwest EDU and share our Hope Forward model and the vision it represents,” Scogin said. “Hope Forward is a bold ambition to fund a Hope College education through giving rather than tuition and student loans. However, the high cost of a college education is a national crisis. We hope to inspire discussion and out-ofthe-box thinking about innovative ways to address it.” Announced in July, Hope Forward is a model for fully funding tuition through giving so that students can pursue impact instead of incurring debt and needing to chase income. Rather than require students to pay for their own degrees, the approach will ask them to contribute to the college after they graduate to support those who follow. Scogin will speak for 20 minutes. He will reflect on the broken nature of the current business model of higher education and how Hope Forward emphasizes gift-giving rather than bill-paying; how fully funded tuition addresses social justice, since college equalizes earning potential for students from diverse economic backgrounds; and how the Hope Forward model affects the college/student relationship, enhancing lifelong learning and connection with graduates. The college-wide strategy is built on a foundation of three pillars — accessibility, generosity and community — in accordance with Hope’s Christian mission. Reflec-

tive of the three pillars, the tuition model uses a “pay-it-forward” approach. Participating students will receive a Hope College education with tuition fully funded by the generous gifts of others, and pay only for room and board. During their four years at Hope, students will explore gratitude, both as a beneficiary of others’ generosity and as generous givers themselves. When, as alumni, they give to Hope after graduation, they will become part of a continuum of generational support for the students of the future. Hope officials estimate that the school’s endowment will need to increase by an additional $1.1 billion (from its current level of $308 million) for Hope Forward to support the entire student body of 3,000 students. In the meantime, a gift from an anonymous donor has enabled Hope to enroll an inaugural cohort of 22 students this fall and to support a second cohort starting in the fall of 2022, with funding continuing through graduation for each of the two groups. The college also held its tuition for 2021-22 at the 2020-21 level for all students. SXSW EDU is a component of the South by Southwest family of conferences and festivals. It takes place each March in Austin as a four-day event to advance teaching, learning and innovation in education, and includes a variety of sessions, immersive workshops, interactive learning experiences, mentorship, film screenings, future-focused competitions, an expo, learning opportunities and more. Additional information about this year’s program is available at

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MARCH 7, 2022



Affordable Housing Grand Rapids Business Journal Breakfast Series


We are excited to be releasing a new series of events, Breakfast Series, brought to you by Grand Rapids Business Journal. Breakfast Series are quarterly panels, discussions, and award ceremonies with exceptional networking opportunities within West Michigan. These events bring you compelling business content with the intent to educate and inspire attendees. When: April 13 | 7:30-9:30 a.m. Where: Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park MODERATOR: Ryan Kilpatrick | Executive Director | Housing Next PANELISTS: John Bitely | Owner | Sable Homes Vera Beech | Executive Director | Community Rebuilders Ryan VerWys | CEO | Inner City Christian Federation


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2/28/22 11:37 AM

Congratulations to MMA Principal,

Megan Feenstra Wall!



MARCH 10, 2022 GLC Live at 20 Monroe

What makes these women so influential? LOOK UP THE DEFINITION for “influential” and you get “having influence.” Hmm, not particularly helpful. Look up synonyms for influential and you’ll get descriptors like powerful, authoritative, dominant, controlling, strong and important. Better, but still not exactly what I would use to describe the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 2022 class of 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan. Two words come to mind for me when describing this year’s class: vital and critical. For West Michigan to continue on a path of relevance and prosperity, it’s critical that these 50 women — and hundreds more like them — exhibit the strength, compassion and ethics required to move the business community forward. For West Michigan’s message to reach a national or even global stage, it’s vital that these women continue to tell their personal stories and by their actions show the rest of the world what this region is all about. The 50 women profiled here are inspirational. Many have overcome personal and professional obstacles that would have sidetracked most people, regardless of gender. While their stories vary, all of them share at least one common trait — they are very intentional in their actions. When Huntington Bank-West Michigan President Krista Flynn noticed she often was the only female in the room, she set about changing that narrative by encouraging other female finance executives to put in the work required to reach the top of their professions. When public relations firm owner Mary Ann Sabo first heard about the Black Lives Matter movement, she sought out a young entrepreneur of color to support. Her collaboration with Dondrea Brown of Young Money Finances resulted in several success stories for his nonprofit. Kristen Revere, co-owner of Gold Coast Doulas, sought out two women to mentor through Grand Valley State University’s Cook Leadership Program, where she has volunteered since 2010. The list of similar stories from these women goes on and on. Then there are the ones who are so dedicated and so prolific, they can’t limit themselves to helping just a few individuals at a time. At least three members of this year’s class — Nikeidra Battle-DeBarge, Graci Harkema and Shannon Cohen — are in the process of or already have published books about their personal experiences in an effort to spread their messages of triumph around the world. This is what it means to be intentional. Add that intentionality to being vital and critical and you get a motivated group of women who are at the forefront of change in West Michigan. The title of this celebration is the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan. Because this program requires a nomination and application process and only those who apply are considered for inclusion, the word “most” might be a bit of a stretch in some circles. But there is no denying all 50 of these women are vital and critical when it comes to West Michigan’s growth. That’s what being influential is all about. Tim Gortsema Editor Grand Rapids Business Journal



MENAKA ABEL BRINGS deep international acumen to her role as a leader in West Michigan. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Abel left her homeland during a civil war and became the first woman in her family to attend college. She earned a B.A. in accounting from Hillsdale College in 1993, earned her certified public accountant designation while working at Price Waterhouse in 1995 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998. Abel worked for Steelcase and Amway for two decades, using her background to serve in international finance for Amway’s Asian markets, then moving to cover Latin America and eventually becoming controller for Amway North America. In 2019, she became CFO of Request Foods, a Holland-based meal co-packing company. In October, Request announced it would spend $205 million to expand its operations in Holland in a move expected to create 198 jobs — in large part thanks to Abel’s work securing $36 million in state and local incentives. “While we received enticing offers to expand in other states, our commitment to Michigan, coupled with our desire to ensure Holland is recognized as an area of choice to live and work, precipitated our decision to expand locally,” Abel said. Abel is a leader at her job, but she also serves her community as a board member for the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce and Kids’ Food Basket. She has participated in Michigan Economic Development Corporation podcasts and site selector panels for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to promote business opportunities in the state. Given her personal journey, Abel describes herself as a “fierce advocate” for women and has mentored many young professionals in the workplace throughout her career.

ERICA ARMSTRONG Founder, CEO Root Functional Medicine

DR. ERICA ARMSTRONG’S food-as-medicine business served up healthy, dietitian-approved foods for 4,500 customers in 2021, with an ambitious goal of improving personal and public health. Armstrong left a high-paying, stable job as a medical doctor to start Root Functional Medicine in 2018. Root is a woman-focused health food business she describes as a “onestop shop for functional medicine for PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), thyroid, gut health and fertility.” The goal of her business is to reverse chronic health conditions naturally by addressing causes rooted in diet, through customized meal plans designed by doctors, dietitians and chefs that are distributed through the meal service Root Farmacy. Root Functional Medicine also offers telehealth consultations to help design each person’s plan. In under four years, Armstrong took the business from zero to $1.2 million in revenue without any startup investment funding. The business employs 12 people with full benefits. Root was named one of Michigan Celebrates Small Business’ 50 Companies to Watch in 2021 and won the West Michigan Woman Readers’ Choice Award for Nutrition Service in 2021, in addition to Armstrong’s many other awards over the years. “My most significant career achievement is creating a business that changes people’s lives,” she said. “We reach over 1 million people annually across six continents through our online education platform and help people understand how they can achieve health and wellness through food and lifestyle changes. I believe this is my most significant career achievement because it directly influences the health of our community and has a worldwide reach.”


NIKEIDRA BATTLE-DEBARGE Coordinator, Manasseh Project at Wedgwood Christian Services Executive director and board president, New Destiny Pathways

NIKEIDRA BATTLE-DEBARGE has spent her nearly 19-year career working to end the sexual exploitation of young people in West Michigan. She leads Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project, which was one of the first programs in West Michigan that helped address the issue of sex trafficking, according to Battle DeBarge’s nominator. She travels all over the region to educate community members, parents and young people on the issue of human trafficking and helps people gain skills to prevent them from being pulled into it. Wedgwood’s Manasseh Project recently partnered with the SEE Human Trafficking Coalition and Kent Intermediate School District to secure a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Trafficking in Persons that will provide resources to the community to help end human trafficking. Battle-DeBarge also founded the nonprofit New Destiny Pathways in 2012 after seeing the needs of young women in West Michigan who are transitioning out of foster care and residential services. Through New Destiny Pathways, Battle-DeBarge works to offer clean, safe, supportive and affordable housing to women ages 17-21, with the goal of helping them develop practical life skills so they can become independent. New Destiny Pathways recently received the 2021 Organizational Leadership Award from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s ATHENA Awards program. “Nikeidra has dedicated her life and her heart to serve the underserved within our community, and she continues to be an advocate for those who may not have a voice,” her nominator said. In 2021, Battle-DeBarge published a memoir, “Cake without Icing,” that details her journey to overcoming barriers.


Executive director, Lions & Rabbits Center for the Arts Founder and operator, Rosebud LLC HANNAH BERRY HAS been a driving force in Grand Rapids since founding Lions & Rabbits in 2016. Lions & Rabbits initially was an art gallery and retail and educational space in the Creston neighborhood but relaunched as the nonprofit Lions & Rabbits Center for the Arts last year after merging with Grand Rapids Community Arts. At the time of the merger, Berry spun off Rosebud LLC from Lions & Rabbits and now operates it separately as an events and experiential marketing firm. Berry has worked to help artists receive recognition and pay for their work since she became a business owner, and her promotion of economic development through arts and culture continues today. She is interim secretary of the Creston Business Association and co-chair of the Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) Goal Five Alliance, which advises DGRI staff on programs and projects related to building an “increasingly inviting, welcoming and inclusive downtown.” Berry created the After Dark street party and art event and has been instrumental in public placemaking projects such as the Rad American Women art walking tour, the Movies on Monroe activation, the World of Winter festival, Windows GR, and the Women’s Way alley mural projects in partnership with DGRI and the city, as well as other businesses, individuals and institutions. Her nominator said Berry is “consistently asked for help with businesses and activating their communities outside of her own because of the waves that she has made in just a few short years … (and she) continues to inspire many with her talents, motivation and passion.”



Kent County Commissioner, District 5 Legislative consultant, Muchmore Harrington Smalley & Associates MANDY BOLTER WAS board chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners during one of its most difficult seasons: the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she is immediate past chair now, during her tenure as chair, the county received over $120 million in federal CARES Act funding and had six months to evaluate the needs and disburse the funds. She was instrumental in partnering to create the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at DeVos Place — at the time she also was a government relations adviser at Spectrum Health, one of the partners behind the vaccine clinic — and she also worked with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to create a $25 million fund for small business support. “I led all efforts of the county response and listened to the needs of the community for (the) pandemic, while also ensuring the general function of county government … had the proper staff, oversight and funding to continue to properly function,” Bolter said. She collaborated with Kent County Health Department and Mayor Rosalynn Bliss to create the Lead Action Task Force, which continued to inspect and clear homes of lead during the shutdown and pandemic. Since her election as a board commissioner in 2014, Bolter has served on the Convention and Arena Authority Board, the Kent County Community Corrections Advisory Board, the Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. Advisory Board, the Grand Valley Metro Council, the Human Services Committee and the county Legislative and Human Services Committee. Bolter also is an advocate for county parks and trails, viewing them as a strong driver of employee attraction and retention in the region’s economy.

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President, CEO Open Systems Technologies (OST) MEREDITH BRONK WAS described by her nominator as a humble business and community leader with a strategic skillset and a passion for building others up. Bronk has been in the C-suite at OST since 1998 and became the top leader of the Grand Rapids-based technology company — which also has locations in Detroit, Minneapolis and London — in 2014. She has leveraged her culture-creation skills to make the multimillion-dollar company a multiple winner of the Best and Brightest Places to Work For award from the National Association for Business Resources. “From just seven of us in 2002 to over 300 today, I’m proud of the impact that we’ve been able to have as a business,” Bronk said. “Since taking over as CEO, I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve transformed what we do, grown the number of employees we have by nearly three times and, in our most recent employee survey, over 98% of our team said that they would recommend OST as a great place to work.” Bronk said she feels privileged to be a strong female leader in the tech world and recognizes the power of representation for other women. “To me, that’s what influence is all about. To do what we can, not for our own benefit, but in consideration of others,” she said. Bronk serves as board chair of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and as a board member of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids and United Bank of Michigan. She also is an adviser to SecurAlarm Inc.


President Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce JANE CLARK HAS devoted her career to representing and furthering lakeshore businesses through a combination of vision and service. Clark began her West Michigan career in 1990 at the predecessor of the Michigan West Coast Chamber, then called Holland Area Chamber of Commerce, rising through the ranks as the organization morphed and grew. She oversaw the mergers of the Holland and Zeeland chambers in 2012 and now is leader of the combined organization that represents 1,250 businesses in Ottawa County and has annual revenue of $1.2 million. Her nominator described her as a “powerhouse in West Michigan” whose opinion, insight and wisdom is sought after whenever significant issues arise. “She is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge — whether that’s developing her team, providing guidance to a student as they prepare to launch their career, mentoring a business or nonprofit executive, or providing strategic direction to an organization,” the nominator said. Clark has been a board member for Lakeshore Advantage for 15 years; a member of Housing Next since its inception; is board chair of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Professionals Foundation; and previously served on the boards of Holland Hospital, Black River Public School and Downtown Holland Principal Shopping District. Under her leadership, the chamber was named Outstanding Chamber of the Year for the state of Michigan in 2018 by the Michigan Association of Chamber Professionals (MACP). In 2014, then again in 2019, the organization was awarded a Five-Star Accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


SHANNON COHEN Founder, CEO Shannon Cohen Inc.

SHANNON COHEN IS A self-described “hope dealer,” and she does it well. Cohen moves through many circles in West Michigan through her consulting business, which specializes in developing customized emotional intelligence and wellness trainings for difference-makers across diverse sectors and industries. She also has built and scaled multiple regional and global movements to advance career mobility, wellness, equity and inclusion for women who lead. Cohen is a two-time author, podcaster and creator of the inspirational product line Tough Skin, Soft Heart, which is available in retail stores nationwide; and she founded the Rockstar Woman Brunch Experience, which began as a local, in-person event and grew 37% in 2021 to serve nearly 600 women in two countries, 21 states and 121 cities. According to her nominator, “Shannon is the epitome of influence: She works tirelessly for her own dreams and encourages, nudges, cheers, laughs, cries and celebrates the dreams of others.” Cohen is a board member of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, the Spectrum Health Foundation and Project GREEN (Grassroots Economic Empowerment Network). She previously served on the board of the former Grand Rapids HQ (now AYA Youth Collective) and Baxter Community Center. She also lends her time as a keynote speaker and has provided diversity, equity and inclusion consulting services. The Business Journal selected Cohen in 2020 and 2021 as one of the 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders in West Michigan and named her one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Michigan in 2018 and 2020.

JAIME COUNTERMAN Foundation director University of Michigan Health-West

JAIME COUNTERMAN’S CAREER continues to be shaped by her desire to be a force for good. In her current role, Counterman leverages her influence to mobilize others to effect health equity and change in the West Michigan health care landscape. Throughout the pandemic, Counterman created and activated a $2 million COVID relief fund to offer free child care, emotional support spaces, emergency financial support and PPE equipment for U-M Health-West workers; a mobile clinic van for community health and sports medicine; partnerships to impact social determinants of health in minority populations, who were diagnosed at higher rates in early COVID; and joint efforts with Exalta Health for a diabetes clinic and the American Heart Association for “Have Faith in Heart” to support the African American faith community. Counterman’s nominator described her as a fierce advocate for female empowerment; diversity, equity and inclusion; and mental health. Counterman said these passions come from her origins. “My personal mission is to help as many people as I can, however I can, whether it be sharing my personal story of navigating through childhood trauma and mental illness to professional success as a female leader,” she said. “I grew up in and love West Michigan, and I want to change the world with my one wild and beautiful life.” Counterman is a member of the West Michigan Leadership Council for Michigan Women Forward; events chair for the Grand Rapids Chamber’s ATHENA Leadership Council; and is a public speaker on topics such as developing female leaders, helping people identify and pursue their “superpowers,” and building healthy relationships and teams.



Executive director Literacy Center of West Michigan WENDY FALB’S LEADERSHIP and commitment to community service have been a constant in West Michigan for many years. Falb has led the Literacy Center since 2014 and said she is most proud of guiding it from debt when she took the reins to “financial strength, stability and investment while significantly expanding impact and improving quality of programing through effective and innovative collaboration, strategic planning and strong evaluation.” Her nominator credits Falb with building and developing her staff and leading their innovative literacy solutions — such as the Customized Workplace English program, ESL training, Family Literacy Program, Adult Basic Education and citizenship services — to help solve the region’s talent attraction and retention and diversity and inclusion problems. Falb said she is humbled to have a role that allows her to learn from communities of color as she works as an ally to promote “educational, economic and environmental equity for the Black, Latino and refugee communities.” In addition to her passion for literacy, Falb has devoted herself to affordable housing advocacy and cares deeply about city parks, infrastructure and natural resources. She recently was appointed a board member for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, serves the Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association and is a board member of the University Preparatory Academy. She served the Grand Rapids Public Schools board of education for nine-and-a-half years, where she helped develop the Museum School and pass a $170 million millage; was a board member of the Downtown Development Authority; and was a board member of the Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority.

MEGAN FEENSTRA WALL Principal, co-owner, architect Mathison | Mathison Architects

MEGAN FEENSTRA WALL is a trailblazer in the field of architecture. In 2021, she became the first female president of the American Institute of Architects Grand Rapids chapter. During her six-year tenure with the chapter, she previously served as vice president and associate director. Her achievements have included steering AIA Grand Rapids through a pandemic while maintaining membership; raising awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion issues in the profession; bestowing the organization’s Gold Award to the first Black woman licensed as an architect in the state; and establishing an endowed scholarship for local architecture students. Feenstra Wall also has served nine years as a board member of the Kendall College Master’s of Architecture Advisory Board, is on the Ferris State University Architecture Advisory Board and was a founding board member of the Children’s Healing Center. She said she is aware of the power of representation for other women in architecture. “I had quite literally no older female role models as I advanced in my career and never saw myself in an ownership role. But, year after year, I grew increasingly frustrated and isolated as women around me left the profession and their companies continued on as if the world hadn’t changed around them. I started seeking out architects at other firms and organizations who were women older than me. … But it wasn’t enough. I needed a louder voice and a practical platform. With one of the co-owners of my 8-year-old company planning to retire in a few years, I spoke up and navigated the delicate path of buyout negotiations and firm transition. … The three-year process took tenacity, tact, firmness, empathy, ambition, drive, strength and gentleness and is the most hard-fought business achievement I have personally earned.”


KRISTA FLYNN President-West Michigan Huntington Bank

KRISTA FLYNN WAS at the forefront of integrating TCF Bank into Huntington Bank after the latter’s acquisition of the former in 2021. As a female leader in a typically male-dominated field, Flynn said she has worked hard throughout her career not only to be the best she could but to give a hand up to other women following in her footsteps — a trait confirmed by her nominator. “I did feel like being ‘as good’ as my male counterparts wasn’t an option — I had to be better,” Flynn said. “I worked very hard to excel not only in performance, but in the intangible skills, as well. As I looked around me and realized I was usually the only woman in the room, I always felt like it was my responsibility to encourage other women to stick with it and aspire to rise within commercial banking, as well. While I am one of very few women in this segment of the banking industry, I am hopeful that I won’t be for very long. Mentoring others in their career paths is a core value for me.” With 1,500 employees under her leadership in a $125 million market, Flynn has plenty of opportunities to do so. She is a member of the executive committee of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and a board member of The Right Place and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Flynn formerly was a board trustee for K-Connect, an executive committee member for Grand Action 2.0 and a board member for Junior Achievement.


Claire Guisfredi Executive Director

We wish to congratulate our own Claire Guisfredi for being recognized as one of the “50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan” for 2022 by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. Going beyond basic needs to improve the lives of all people in northern Kent County is what we do at North Kent Connect. Claire is a shining example of that mission. | 616.866.3478

JENNIFER FEUERSTEIN Associate state director AARP

that found Jennifer Feuerstein at a crucial juncture, and the passion she has developed for it shines through in everything she does.


A journalist by training, Feuerstein found her world crumbling after a divorce left her homeless, impoverished and unable to find a job from ages 33 to 34 during the throes of the Great Recession. Although she had no experience in either field, she sold herself as the right candidate for a job in marketing at the geriatric health care organization Care Resources PACE in 2008. Feuerstein educated herself over the next six years, receiving a certification in aging from Grand Rapids Community College and joining committees and task forces to learn everything she could. In 2014, she was hired as associate state director for AARP. A year later, she became WOTV 4’s on-air correspondent on aging, and in 2020 during the pandemic, she became co-host of the weekly “Real Possibilities” show on the same network. In everything she does, Feuerstein seeks to fight ageism. She said her most significant business accomplishment has been helping the city of Grand Rapids launch as an Age-Friendly Community in a partnership between AARP and the World Health Organization and kicking off a 23-stop listening tour with Mayor Rosalynn Bliss to help the city become more livable for people of all ages. She also served on the city of Grand Rapids’ Equitable Economic Development & Mobility Steering Committee. Among her many other community service activities, Feuerstein is board chair of Designed Future, a nonprofit that creates solutions to complex social issues, and is a board member of Hope for Single Moms.

TINA FREESE DECKER President, CEO Spectrum Health/BHSH System

TINA FREESE DECKER helped to lead the charge in 2022 to create the largest health system in Michigan. The former president and CEO of Spectrum Health helped to spearhead the merger of Spectrum Health and Beaumont Health in January to create a new health system, temporarily named BHSH System. Decker became the new president and CEO of BHSH System on Feb. 1. “As we launch our new health system, we have a bold goal to transform health and are thrilled to unite our two great organizations,” she said. “Together, we will leverage our complementary strengths to innovate and make a positive impact for our communities and their health. We look forward to working with our physicians, team members, patients, health plan members and partners across our state to provide health care and coverage that is accessible, affordable, equitable and exceptional.” Under Decker’s leadership, in 2021, prior to the merger, Spectrum Health West Michigan and Spectrum Health Lakeland launched a new price-estimating tool. It allows patients to create a personalized estimate for more than 450 health services via MyChart or Lakeland MyChart, along with likely deductible, co-pay and co-insurance. Decker also approved raising the minimum wage paid at then-Spectrum Health and offered retention bonuses as employees fought through the pandemic. Spectrum Health directed $300,000 of $10 million earmarked for health equity to partner with the city of Grand Rapids and other organizations to bring Cure Violence, an evidence-based violence interruption program to address homicide and aggravated assault in West Michigan.



Founder, principal Management Business Solutions

no stranger to national economic challenges, so when the pandemic hit, she was prepared.


She is the founder and principal of Management Business Solutions (MBS), a staffing firm and recruiting agency. Genautis started MBS in 2006, just before the recession started in 2007. She was able to grow her agency by hiring and training recruiters in preparation for the rebound of the economy. When Genautis migrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1990, she had to acclimate to the diverse culture. She had to learn the English language, diction and “slang” in the United States so that she could be successful in creating a business that matches job-seekers and with employers. Before moving to Grand Rapids, she recruited for technology companies in California. Genautis worked with companies such as Hewlett Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, Applied Materials, McAfee and Nike. “Recognition by GRBJ’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan in 2022 is an honor for me. I do believe this sets an example to show young professional women that an immigrant with English as a second language can attain success with hard work and perseverance,” she said. “I know the struggles of friends and fellow Filipinos back home, and it has been a privilege to be able to grow and succeed in the U.S. Also, I want to continue to set an example to show my daughter that with passion, hard work, dedication and serving the community that anything can be accomplished.”


CEO Grand Rapids African American Health Institute DURING THE HEIGHT of the pandemic when COVID-19 was taking a toll on health care systems and especially underserved communities, Vanessa Greene decided to take the lead. Greene in 2020 became the CEO of Grand Rapids African American Health Institute (GRAAHI), an organization that is devoted to achieving health care parity for African Americans. She is responsible for providing strategy and direction for the organization, planning and executing community outreach, researching initiatives and advocacy efforts, developing and managing the budget, and operational, financial and administrative functions. Prior to joining GRAAHI, Greene spent 17 years at Hope College, where she served as the school’s associate dean of students and directed its diversity and inclusion efforts. “I learned quickly to focus on student mentoring, executive leadership opportunities, retention, sense of identity and success,” she said. “As a result, I fostered a legacy of successful students, many of whom are now my role models and mentors, as they are leaders in medicine — neurologists, neurosurgeons, dentists, dermatologists, gynecologists, etc. — superintendents, lawyers, business executives, accountants, social workers, and the list can go on and on of student accomplishments.” More importantly, she created a process by which all students can share in those successes. “I developed an alumni advisory council that allowed students to stay connected and support each other’s success — the older ones mentoring the younger ones. I am proud of this legacy.” Greene currently serves on the boards of Urban Core Collective and Spectrum Health.


CLAIRE GUISFREDI Executive director North Kent Connect

CLAIRE GUISFREDI HAS been making an impact on the people of Kent County since she began leading North Kent Connect, an organization that provides resources to people in need. North Kent Connect, which serves people who live in Kent City, Rockford, Belmont, Cedar Springs, Greenville, Comstock Park and Sand Lake, opened its doors to a new building in 2021 following a $2.9 million Building Connections Capital Campaign. The organization exceeded that goal by raising $3.5 million. Since Guisfredi took the helm of the organization nine years ago as the executive director, its budget of $365,000 has increased to $1.1 million. She has tripled her staff and ensured they make a livable wage with access to medical benefits and a 401(k) plan. The organization provides a thrift store, pantry, farm stand and free classes for North Kent Connect clients who can earn thrift store or farm stand credits. Guisfredi said she is most proud of the organization’s commitment to providing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and gluten-free options for its pantry, its collaboration with other nonprofit organizations such as Family Promise of Grand Rapids, West Michigan Works!, Arbor Circle, Kent County Health Department’s WIC program and also transitioning from a free clothing place to a thrift store where items are affordable for the community. Guisfredi serves on the board of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, which has protected 12,251 acres and 155 properties from development. She currently is serving her first year on the board of First Steps Kent, which oversees Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage allocations that ensure all children are ready for kindergarten.


Dean Davenport University College of Urban Education SUSAN GUNN IS BUILDING her legacy at Davenport University. Gunn is using her educational background in the sciences to expose students and teachers to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and careers. She was instrumental in building the College of Urban Education for Davenport University, where she serves as the dean. She designed the college’s first bachelor’s degree that will be offered this fall — Bachelor of Science in Urban STEM Education Program, which is designed to train STEM educators. That is only the latest development at the college. Over the past seven years, Gunn has been the force behind creating the college’s first master’s degree — the Master of Urban Education. The college also began offering a Master of Education in Urban Educational Leadership degree and certification programs, one for teachers and one for administrators. Before becoming dean of the College of Urban Education, Gunn was the first chair of the science department in the College of Arts and Sciences. She has developed several STEM outreach initiatives for urban K-12 students including CSI Davenport Summer Science Camp, Sankofa STEM Academy (in collaboration with Dr. Keli Christopher, founder and executive director of STEM Greenhouse) and the FUTURE Urban STEM Educators initiatives. “The STEM programs I have designed or collaborated on implementing provide students opportunities to experience career options they may have not previously known about,” she said. “These programs are critical catalysts for engaging students to consider going to college in order to pursue STEM careers.”



GRACI HARKEMA STARTED her business months before one of the world’s deadliest pandemics, but she didn’t let it derail her. Instead, she used it to her advantage by telling her story. She is the owner of Graci LLC, a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting and public speaking firm she started in November 2019. Months later, she began losing most of her clients due to budget cuts caused by the pandemic. Her seminars, conferences and speaking engagements got cancelled. Instead of shutting down her business, she pivoted her business model and began offering virtual services. As a result, she was able to grow her Grand Rapids-based business to accommodate clients throughout the country and around the world, including customers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Switzerland. Along the way, she decided to write a memoir, which explains her work in diversity, equity and inclusion and her personal life experiences in being transracially adopted, moving to the United States from the Congo, being assaulted as a child, coming out as LGBTQ during a job interview and publicly resigning from a prominent position. “I’ve had many adversities during my personal and professional life that I was fearful of sharing. Now I realize the power in sharing my story of courage and resilience with others so they know they aren’t alone and can see light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “In December 2021, I received a book deal from a global publisher for my upcoming memoir, ‘Rising From the Mud,’ which is expected to be released late 2022.”

PUSHING BOUNDARIES + PERSEVERING Congratulations on being one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.

Michelle Van Dyke ’85 Wendy Falb ’87 Rachel VerWys ’00 Megan Feenstra Wall ’02 Lauren VanKeulen ’08

ANITA HITCHCOCK Attorney City of Grand Rapids

ANITA HITCHCOCK HAS defined her career by serving others. She is city attorney for Grand Rapids and leads a team of 17 legal professionals who provide legal advice to the city commission, city manager and other departments within city government. Hitchcock is responsible for the trial of all cases for and against the city of Grand Rapids, examination of all contracts entered into by the city, and provision of written legal opinions to several boards and officials. Recently, Hitchcock was tasked with organizing a Police Policy and Procedure Task Force to come up with recommendations to improve future police-community interaction after the city of Grand Rapids conducted a traffic stop study that revealed Black drivers were stopped more frequently than any other ethnicity. She also approved the creation a diversion program in which 1,013 cases involving minor crimes were diverted from prosecution. The program allows participants to complete a set of requirements to avoid a criminal record. Hitchcock created a legal team with expertise in employment and labor law, along with extensive research skills that contributed to a cost reduction for use of outside counsel. She led a team of legal professionals who conducted consultations on COVID-19 response and emergency management issues. “I am humbled and grateful to be nominated as one of GRBJ’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan,” Hitchcock said. “It’s hard being recognized for something that is a way of life for me … service. Service is who I am. Making a difference in the lives of others is where my heart is daily.”

TRACEY HORNBECK President, CEO Legacy Trust

LEGACY TRUST PRESIDENT and CEO Tracey Hornbeck is one of only a few women CEOs in the banking industry. She is responsible for all aspects of the business, including strategic planning, profit and loss, shareholder relations, and employee and client engagement. “While I enjoyed working for a larger company for the greater part of 20 years, it does not hold a candle to running a privately held, local company headquartered in West Michigan,” she said. “There is something to be said about local talent, leadership and local decision making.” She also has made her presence felt in the West Michigan community in other ways. Hornbeck is serving her 15th year on the John Ball Zoo Board of Directors. She is the current board chair. Since joining the board, revenue has more than doubled and the zoo has raised nearly $30 million in capital funding. Hornbeck is the treasurer of the Grand Rapids Symphony Board of Directors. Despite the pandemic, GRS was financially secure as it was able to retain its musician employees during a time when in-person performances were not allowed. She has been serving the West Michigan Center for the Arts and Technology (WMCAT) board of directors for eight years. She is currently board secretary. As a board member for nearly a decade, she has been instrumental in helping WMCAT raise $8.5 million to purchase a permanent building for high school and adult students to attend. Hornbeck also is a committee member for Michigan Women Forward, Econ Club of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Bankers Association.



Host, producer WGVU NPR and The WGVU Morning Show SHELLEY IRWIN IS living out her dreams every day she goes on air. She has been the WGVU NPR host and producer for The WGUV Morning Show since 2001. Throughout the years, she has gained numerous responsibilities. She now hosts a twohour audio newsmagazine; WGVU’s podcast ‘Powerful Women: Let’s Talk’; PBS Kalamazoo Lively Arts; Family Matters; Community Connection; and Art Unfiltered. She also produces local shows with responsibilities that include guest arrangements, research and conducting interviews, and social media sharing. Her more than 20-year path as a radio host and producer came after she was a practicing physical therapist for 15 years. “It was time to chase my dream,” she said. “It took two-and-a-half years, at the age of 38, of paying my dues and getting my experience. (After) furthering my education, serving in multiple internships, traveling to Paris and Frankfurt, Germany, for on-air production tasks and ultimately being told I did not have a broadcast voice, I took charge and pursued an opportunity in Grand Rapids in 2001. To date, 20 years later, I continue to serve as an award-winning, ‘energizer bunny’ host of The WGVU Morning Show, with my broadcast voice!” As she is living out her own dream, Irwin also is mindful to serve her community. She is the director of the social, house, scholarship and strategic planning committees at University Club of Grand Rapids. Irwin also is the vice president and governance chair of the marketing committee for Meals on Wheels of Western Michigan and director of the marketing and social committees for Circle Theatre of Grand Rapids.


Entrepreneur FemPro Business Society, Snap Studio, SnapJoy Studio and AstirFreya DEBORAH KALSBEEK has been following in her parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps since she was 17 years old. Kalsbeek is a single mother and the owner of four businesses: FemPro Business Society, Snap Studio, SnapJoy Studio and AstirFreya. She also is co-leader of the Rising Tide Society’s Tuesdays Together group. Kalsbeek began FemPro Business Society three years ago as a business coach. She offers an eight-week program to help women grow their businesses by creating a monthly system that brings in consistent income. The program also offers entrepreneurs ways to set up their business to run on autopilot, giving them more time in other aspects of their lives and business.

She started Snap Studio 14 years ago. The photography rental studio is a place where pho-

tographers can work, learn and grow. She also does photoshoots for marketing and branding purposes. Another business, AstirFreya, arose from a very personal experience. Last March, after the stillbirth of her daughter in September 2020, she opened the company that sends care kits to mothers who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or the loss of an infant. Each of her businesses plays an important role in her life, Kalsbeek said. “FemPro Business Society has made a huge impact for identifying local women-owned businesses,” she said. “We have helped business owners connect, find resources and help lead them to more business. “AstirFreya helps women through one of the hardest seasons of their life. All in all, everything that I do for business, I want it to help others and our community. I believe in community over competition and lending a helping hand.”


BETH KELLY Founder, president HR Collaborative

BETH KELLY LEVERAGED her more than 35 years in human resources to create her own management and consulting firm, HR Collaborative. She founded the firm in 2013 and since then has experienced year-over-year revenue growth of 33.5%, and 55.6% growth in earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation. Kelly is able to fuel that sustained growth by providing HR management services, strategic talent growth strategies and interim professional services to more than 100 companies in the Midwest. Before starting her firm, Kelly was the senior vice president and chief human resource officer at D&W Food Centers from 1994-97, and she was the first HR professional at Cascade Engineering, a manufacturing company. “After a career as the human resource leader in two of West Michigan’s most progressive employers, I started my own business,” she said. “The first several years were spent working independently, and then in 2013 I rented office space, hired a couple of employees and incorporated as a business entity. Since our inception, we have grown to 25 employees, serve over 100 companies and nonprofits, and have made a significant impact in West Michigan and the human resource profession.” Despite the rigors of starting and running a company, Kelly still finds time to contribute to improving other aspects of West Michigan. She is the board chair of Clark Retirement Community. She has been serving on the board for six years and has participated in the planning and financing of Keller Lake at Clark, a retirement property for Clark residents.

SARA KNOESTER President Mixed Staffing & Recruiting

SARA KNOESTER IS THE president of Mixed Staffing & Recruiting, an agency that focuses on placing women and minorities in jobs. Since 2012, she has been at the helm, leading the certified woman-owned staffing and recruiting agency and ensuring that job seekers are matched with the right employers. The pandemic was a challenge for businesses, but Knoester overcame those challenges by incorporating smarter and more efficient practices and procedures and actually grew the agency. “I feel I am a born leader and have a passion to make change in the world,” she said. “I advocate for those who others don’t hear and do all I can to make the world a better place. We’ve found out how to operate a business that doubled revenue during the pandemic, we’ve worked smarter, more efficient and hired over 4,000 people. My most significant achievement is not only surviving the pandemic but growing our business by over 100%.” Mixed Staffing & Recruiting established three divisions, which include professional and skilled staffing and recruiting, inclusive workforce staffing, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) recruitment and engagement. The professional and skilled staffing and recruiting division works with companies that are seeking specific skills, certifications and/or other educational backgrounds — from office assistants to maintenance technicians. The inclusive workforce staffing division provides educational employment opportunities to people who are facing employment barriers. The DEI recruitment and engagement division educates employers on diversity and inclusion and helps to recruit, retain and consult employers on workplace readiness for a diverse culture.



Owner, photographer Mod Bettie Portrait Boutique, Naughty Bettie AS THE OWNER of two small businesses and the cultivator of an online community of nearly 4,400 #SquadBettie members, Elise Kutt’s driving passion is to foster a safe and inclusive environment for all female and female-identifying self-expression. As a photographer, Kutt has done away with the notion that her trade is simply the act of documenting a client by camera. Instead, each client session is viewed through the lens of a method of alternative wellness. This approach, combined with a supportive and empowering environment that creates a space where all clients are proud to express their inner beauty, has afforded her the ability to authentically tell each client’s story. Kutt also offers a safe place for self-expression — what she calls “fempowerment” — through fostering a growing online community of #SquadBettie members. The #SquadBettie page reads, “In a society that puts a camera in every hand but is quick to shame the selfie, our mission is to empower women by creating a safe and supportive environment for female self-expression.” While serving as a board member for the Better Body Image Conference from 20182020, Kutt also had the opportunity to host the body-acceptance event at her studio. “Facilitating this event was a significant achievement, as this forum was a touchpoint in creating cultural and social change in the West Michigan community in the way bodies are viewed,” Kutt said. “This was such an honor since body-acceptance and self-love are core values that I promote through the respective platforms of each of my businesses.”

A legacy of excellence - A culture of trust. Standards set by our influential leader, President & CEO, Tracey Hornbeck. Congratulations Tracey, on being recognized as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan*. – Legacy Trust Board and Staff | 616.454.2852 *Grand Rapids Business Journal


Founder, director Autism Center for Child Development/Wedgwood Christian Services A PASSION FOR ADVOCACY and inclusivity led Candice Lake, Ph.D., to develop and open a supportive space for children with autism spectrum disorder, while also implementing workplace policies that support and empower women. As the director and founder of Wedgwood Christian Services’ Autism Center for Child Development, Lake’s team offers comprehensive, early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) for children between 18 months and 5 years of age. “I’ve built a center where we provide the highest quality therapy to children with autism, where we consider their desires and respect their dignity, and where people want to work. We’re showing that you can provide excellent, ethical services in an environment that is supportive and fun,” Lake said. The center also recently expanded services to include therapy for older children and has plans to open after-school programming, social skills groups and summer camps within the fiscal year. By implementing policies such as encouraging women to take time off from work to become a mother and care for a baby, offering mentorship and flexibility, and providing time and space needed for mothers to express breastmilk at work, Lake has made it her intent to help women successfully balance their career and family lives under her leadership. Lake also is a founding member and current board president of the Michigan Behavior Analysis Providers Association, where she has served for three years, and has worked to pass legislation and contributed to boilerplate language in Michigan’s state budget to advance the organization’s mission of promoting access to the science of applied behavior analysis through advocacy, education and quality practices.

SARA LOWE Executive director Emmanuel Hospice

A PASSIONATE ADVOCATE for providing patient-centered end-of-life care, Sara Lowe has proven to be an influential leader of a successful, growing organization. A social worker by trade, Lowe’s passion for hospice care led her to become the founding executive director of Emmanuel Hospice, which opened in 2013. She has since led the $11 million organization to better serve patients and families through technological advancements and expanded programming. During the pandemic, Emmanuel experienced nearly 40% employee growth in just over a year while simultaneously receiving regional and national accolades as a Best and Brightest Company to Work For. With Lowe at the helm, Emmanuel has broadened its use of technology to better serve patients and increase safety during COVID-19 through the implementation of new telehealth programs, virtual bedside care, and the use of virtual reality headsets and videos to allow patients to tour meaningful locations they’re unable to visit physically. The organization also pivoted its funding events to virtual, which collectively raised more than $76,000. “What’s evident is that we are changing people’s experiences and perspective on the end of life,” Lowe said. “Seeing the impact our staff has, the difference they make is all I could have hoped for and more. I love to see referrals come through and hear how people talk about the organization. It affirms that we make the tough stuff that comes with dying easier for patients and families.” Lowe also is a recently elected board director of the Home Care and Hospice Association of Michigan and has served on the North Kent Aquatic Team board for six years, most recently as president.



Section chief Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital/Spectrum Health LISA LOWERY’S WORK is driven by her passion for developing a health care system that better reflects the communities and patients she serves. As section chief for Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Spectrum Health and division chief of Pediatric Subspecialties at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Lowrey is committed to leading and developing residents and medical students to care for underserved youth and families throughout West Michigan with a focus on promoting equity and inclusion in the medical field. Originally an associate professor for Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s department of pediatrics and human development, Lowery also was named assistant dean for diversity and cultural initiatives at the college in 2020. Since assuming the new position, she has developed a series of DEI events for the college as well as curriculum focused on racism, health disparities and microaggression. “My leadership style is one in which I love to develop people. I love to see people grow,” Lowery said. “Additionally, I hope that I helped pave the way for others, as so many have done for me so that we don’t have to be the only person of color at the table. … I hope that I will be most remembered (for making) this space a little more welcoming, comfortable, supporting and affirming for those that come behind me.” Lowery’s community involvement includes serving on the Urban League of West Michigan’s board of directors for 15 years, where she currently holds the position of vice president, as well as on the Grand Rapids LGBTQ+ Health Consortium and Wedgwood Christian Services executive boards.

PHILOMENA MANTELLA President Grand Valley State University

PHILOMENA MANTELLA HAS positioned herself as a national leader in education innovation and made big strides as Grand Valley State University’s first woman president since first stepping into the role in 2019. As leader of the university, Mantella oversees the management and operations of seven GVSU locations, including more than 3,500 employees and nearly 24,000 students. Mantella has spearheaded several initiatives as GVSU’s president, including the reorganization of the university’s structure to better align with future-focused, mission-critical objectives, including the establishment of its Information Technology Division and expanding the Division of Enrollment Development and Education Outreach to encourage access and enrollment to underserved populations and aspiring students. In addition, Mantella led efforts to launch several programs that have garnered state and national attention, including its Lifelong Educational Attainment for Determined Students (LEADS) program in 2020, which provides online, accelerated degree programs for adults. The program’s quick success was proven in 2021, after experiencing a 72% enrollment increase. In an effort to reach underserved student populations, Mantella also led the creation of the REP4 scholarship program, offering aspiring students an opportunity to earn a full-ride scholarship through a summer program and national pitch event. Upon settling into West Michigan, Mantella was quick to extend community support beyond the walls of GVSU. For over a year, she has served on Spectrum Health System’s board of directors, most recently as director, and is a member of the executive committee on the board of directors for The Right Place. She also was appointed by the governor to serve on the Michigan Education Trust board.


GRICELDA MATA President, CEO Lindo Mexico Restaurant

GRICELDA MATA RUNS Lindo Mexico with intention and puts an emphasis on bettering the lives of everyone she encounters. After arriving in the United States with her family at age 11 and not knowing one word of English, Mata was determined to forge her own path to success and has gone on to run a successful business for the past 21 years. The small restaurant that opened in 2000 has grown into a thriving $2.2 million business with a full-service bar, a range of authentic Mexican food and a space to highlight the work of local artists. With staff appreciation and well-being at the forefront of her operation, Mata fought through the pandemic to ensure all 26 of her employees were paid at least $15 per hour and implemented business hours to provide them with needed rest and time to spend with loved ones. Mata said her “why” in business is to elevate standards in the community and show that those who have experienced financial challenges without a college degree can achieve success through hard work. “My most significant business achievement will definitely have to be (having) the opportunity to provide employment to many families in our community,” Mata said. “It is such a joy when I know they are able to afford a home or a car. Knowing I am making someone else’s life better is priceless, and a true blessing.” Mata currently serves on the Kent County Food Policy Council, which was established to end food scarcity in Kent County, and the Hispanic Minority Business Council to provide resources to minority business owners.


President, CEO Waséyabek Development Company AS PRESIDENT AND CEO of the 100% tribally owned, non-gaming economic development entity of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, Deidra Mitchell has led Waséyabek Development Company (WDC) to substantial growth since joining the company five years ago. Prior to her leadership, WDC started with three employees operating within three subsidiaries. Today, the company has grown to a team of more than 400 individuals operating out of 20 nationwide entities, representing a range of diversified operations including manufacturing, technology, transportation, real estate and health care. Despite facing the unique sovereign structure and challenges many tribes encounter in economic development, which Mitchell said often can be to their detriment, she and her team have fought their way to success, most recently meeting every one of WDC’s goals established in its five-year plan that started in 2017. In 2019, Mitchell also organized an effort to highlight the importance and relevance that tribes contribute to economic development well beyond gaming activity. After she gained the support of nine of 12 federally recognized Michigan Tribes, the group collectively presented its data and contributions from diversified operations, resulting in a first-of-its-kind publication called the Michigan Non-Gaming Tribal Economic Impact Study. The publication received recognition from tribal leaders across the country and inspired many native groups to become more self-sufficient through business diversification. Mitchell’s impact also is evident at the local level. She dedicates her time to serving on a variety of boards, including the Literacy Center of West Michigan, Grand Rapids Symphony and West Michigan CEO Council through the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.



Wealth management adviser Merrill Lynch RACHEL MRAZ IS a nationally recognized wealth adviser, but she’s also known to her colleagues as contributing much of her time, funds and talent to benefiting charitable organizations. Mraz has earned a variety of professional designations, including Certified Financial Planner, Certified Investment Management Analyst and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor. The pursuit of her client-focused development earned her state and national recognition as a top wealth adviser from Forbes multiple times. Mraz also pursued and earned her designation as a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy, a certification built on the framework of philanthropic financial planning and charitable giving strategies. With community and philanthropy at the heart of her work, Mraz serves on seven executive boards, including John Ball Zoo, Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Family Business Alliance, Davenport University Foundation and Van Andel Institute’s JBoard. She also is president and trustee of her late mother’s foundation board, the Eileen DeVries Family Foundation. “Outside of my professional work and perhaps even more personally impactful, I have been incredibly proud of several accomplishments philanthropically. I have chaired several successful capital campaigns for nonprofits and the joy of crossing that finish line and seeing the impact we are able to make in the community is unparalleled,” Mraz said. “But one of the things I am most proud of most recently has been setting up and organizing the intent and structure of my late mother’s foundation, the Eileen DeVries Family Foundation, succeeding as its president after my mom passed. … I can’t wait to see what we are able to accomplish in her honor.”


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SINDIA NARBER BEGAN her career with DK Security in 2003 as a part-time HR assistant when it was serving three Midwest states. Over the ensuing 19 years, her grit and sheer determination have since elevated her to CEO of the company where she now oversees 2,000 employees. The company has seen significant growth under Narber’s leadership. DK Security reported annual revenue of $5.8 million in 2003. Now, the security services firm has grown to $36 million in annual revenue and continued to sustain its growth through the pandemic. Narber is known by those who work for her as a “top-notch person and leader,” the “epitome of (a) spirit leader,” and is known to take employees under her wing and help to develop and encourage them with her strong, fair and caring nature, according to her multiple nominators. Narber is known to do whatever it takes to help her employees, and the business she leads, succeed despite any obstacle or adversity. “Sindia Narber is a steady hand and a calming influence. She handles conflict brilliantly, and she earns respect,” said one colleague who worked with Narber for many years. “(In 2021), DK Security lost its CEO, John Kendall. His passing in the spring could have been detrimental to the company and its more than 2,000 employees. Sindia capably stepped into her new role and led the company through her grief. John was a dear friend and mentor to her.” Narber also serves as vice-chair for Silent Observer of West Michigan, providing community members a safe and anonymous way to report incidents of crime.

KRISTIN REVERE Co-owner Gold Coast Doulas

KRISTIN REVERE’S COMMITMENT to supporting women and her community is evident in the way she runs her business and elevates the lives of others through service. As the co-owner of Gold Coast Doulas established in 2017, Revere has built and led a team of 22 subcontracted doulas to provide a robust menu of comforting and compassionate care services for mothers throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Gold Coast, which serves the greater West Michigan area, has been recognized as a top birth doula and a top woman-owned business on multiple occasions at a regional level. Gold Coast Doulas also pursued B Corp certification, allowing the company to give back to several organizations including Spectrum Health Foundation, Saint Mary’s Foundation, Nestlings Diaper Bank and Helen Seven Foundation. “I am passionate about giving back to the community. That is why I pursued B Corp certification. We are the first B Corp in our category in the world,” Revere said. “… As a B Corp, we give 2% of our net profits to charities supporting low-income women and children.” Revere makes a point to give her time to the community, serving on boards including the Michigan Board of Licensed Midwifery and as vice-chair for the Eastown Business Association. She also is a member of the board at Mothership, where she helped launch live training for Mothership certifications and volunteered to co-lead an online fertility support group during COVID-19 to aid women across the country struggling with conception. Her passion to support women also is exemplified by mentoring two women through Grand Valley State University’s Cook Leadership Program, where she has volunteered since 2010.



Founder, president Sabo PR

THOUGH HER JOURNEY may not have begun in West Michigan, Mary Ann Sabo is proud and honored to serve the Grand Rapids community she now calls home. Sabo PR’s team of 10 serves more than 50 municipal, corporate, educational, nonprofit and financial institutions in West Michigan and beyond, and she provides a supportive and engaging work environment with competitive wages and benefits for all employees. Sabo’s intent to lead her organization with heart has led the company to donate services to those in need and provide discounts to help ease financial burdens for nonprofits. “After the Black Lives Matter protests, I realized I wanted (to) support an entrepreneur of color. I reached out and connected with Dondrea Brown, who is running a nonprofit called Young Money Finances, which promotes financial literacy for children,” Sabo said. “We have been providing communications services to him for the past year and have been able to celebrate a number of fundraising and media successes with him.” Sabo also offers mentorship opportunities, particularly to young women in the early stages of their career. In addition to her grassroots stewardship through her business and personal gifts, Sabo serves as a board member for the Purse Project, providing necessities like hygiene supplies to men and women at local homeless shelters and needed items for those in intensive care at local hospitals. She also was instrumental in launching and leading Legacy Trust Award Collection (LTAC) Arts, providing opportunities for adults with disabilities with a chance to win $500, have their art displayed at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and have their work featured at ArtPrize.


President, CEO Family Promise of Grand Rapids CHERYL SCHUCH IS positioned on the frontlines of battling homelessness and food insecurity for children and families in West Michigan. As the CEO of Family Promise of Grand Rapids, Schuch leads the organization to team with cross-sector partners to provide emergency and support services, as well as housing stabilization. At the start of the pandemic, Schuch secured an emergency shelter and within two days provided more than 30 families with a safe place to stay. Then she secured funding to ensure those families could stay for up to 18 months. Throughout the pandemic, Family Promise was able to find housing for more than 500 families accounting for more than 1,200 children. She also led a program to refurbish mobile homes that led to housing for hundreds more families. “I have been incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work in the nonprofit community since my return to West Michigan. I have taken Family Promise from a $250,000 organization in 2019 to one with over $5 million in revenue last year. The importance of this is not growth for the sake of growth, but because we have been able to meet the explosive need of children in our community,” Schuch said. In addition to serving on several boards, including the West Michigan Partnership for Children and the governing board of the Coalition to End Homelessness Steering Committee, Schuch was a founding member of the Vistage cohort in West Michigan. That board is derived from the international executive coaching organization and is comprised of 14 local, cross-sector CEOs.



President People First Economy/Local First WHEN HANNA SCHULZE took over leadership at her organization, things were looking good — for about a month. Then the pandemic hit and everything Schulze thought she knew about leadership was put to the test. “I was appointed president of People First Economy, best known for programs Local First and Good For Michigan, in February 2020. Within one month of this appointment, the world shut down — and as an organization tasked with supporting our small, independently owned businesses, our work was more important than ever,” she said. “I am proud of how I led our team — taking care of my coworkers’ physical and mental health and making the tough calls. I was able to maintain all of our workforce without laying anyone off. We created new programs to directly serve business owners with financial needs and grew our membership substantially. During this time (2020-2021), I was able to create relationships statewide that have allowed us to expand our services to over 33 cities across the state of Michigan.” Schulze also is president and board chair of the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, where she helped raise more than $400,000 for a new water feature in Garfield Park, applied for and received $40,000 in funds to disperse directly to vulnerable neighbors most impacted by COVID-19, and hosted vaccination clinics and educational events in the park weekly during the summer. “I feel strongly that when crisis finds our communities, women are the ones who rise to the occasion to lead with compassion, resiliency and strength, and nothing has exemplified this more than these last few years.”


Founder Community of Hearts/ Kent County Commission AT FIRST GLANCE, Monica Sparks appears to be pulled in about a million different directions. She is founder of Community of Hearts, a nonprofit that raises mental health awareness and helps people locate the resources they need. She’s also serving her second term on the Kent County Board of Commissioners representing the Kentwood/Wyoming area, a licensed real estate broker, board president of National Heritage Academies Vista, a member of the Kent County Early Childhood Millage Review Board and owns several businesses, including Urban Sparks Realty and Body Sculpt Better Body Bar & Spa. And she’s a former planning commissioner for the city of Kentwood, certified business mentor with SCORE, and advocate for senior citizens and military veterans. But that’s all part of her plan. “I work hard and consistently strive to be a leader that people can count on. I know real, lasting influence is something that is not based on selfishness,” she said. “Influence that makes a difference is based on making a difference in the lives of people you know and do not know. From the single parent that calls about their child at the school that I preside over or the minority business owner calling me looking for resources, to the homeless person on the street that I seek to support and do not look past, I feel blessed to be a community-minded servant leader that can consistently point to many instances and deeds that show I truly care about my community. I appreciate the opportunity to utilize the influence I have to be a better leader for others.”



KELLY SPRINGER IS a leader by choice. “I participate in boards and councils that I’m personally interested and supportive of, not because I’m looking to build my resume or use these positions as a way to gain business or market the networking,” said Springer, the CEO of Metal Flow Corp. in Holland, a producer of parts for the global automotive industry that employs 275 people and boasts annual revenue of more than $100 million. “As a long-serving member of the business community in West Michigan, I feel I have followed my passions and interests in service to others as a community trustee.” Those passions and interests include board chair for the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce, executive chair of the Inforum ManufacturingNEXT Industry Group and membership on the Michigan Women Forward West Michigan Advisory Council. Springer comes by her leadership qualities honestly. “One of the items that is a key component of my personal story is the decision I made to leave a longstanding career in public accounting to take a risk and try a new role in manufacturing,” she said. “It was driven by my desire to be part of a team running a company and to step outside the role of consulting.” Many told her making such a significant change at that point in her career was a big mistake. But she dismissed the naysayers. “I made the change because I knew I wanted to take on a new challenge,” Springer said. “And that has continued to motivate me in my roles.”

INFLUENCING WHAT’S NEXT Grand Valley State University is proud of the impact President Philomena V. Mantella has had on our students, higher education, and the community, and congratulates her on being named one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women. Her dedication to addressing equity and access in higher education has energized the university and the diverse learners it serves.

SUE TELLIER President JetCo Federal

SUE TELLIER THINKS big when it comes to small businesses. Not only for her own business, which is a supply chain management, logistics and packaging services company with a focus on helping organizations achieve and maintain operational efficiency and resilience, but also for those within her network of influence. “I currently serve enthusiastically on five very diverse boards. Through these, I get to influence economic development across the state of Michigan, lift up women working in the defense industry and fiercely advocate for and support Michigan small business owners and women business owners across the country,” she said. “Most importantly, though, I make time to mentor my peers and employees.” Her service includes board work with the Michigan Strategic Fund, Small Business Association of Michigan and Women in Defense. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed her to the MSF board in 2019 and her current term expires in 2025. With SBAM, she serves as second vice-chair. “Every person representing SBAM — employees and board alike — went into triage mode (in March 2020) to help small businesses survive the most challenging time for all of Michigan,” Tellier said. “I’m proud to be part of the organization that advocated for small business support that was targeted, not just platitudes.” JetCo recently was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing privately held companies (No. 2960), representing an annual growth of more than 133%. “When we were selected to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing privately held companies, it was because we grew exponentially,” Tellier said. “My most significant business achievement is not allowing that growth to implode the company.”

ALEKA THRASH Owner A.C.T. PhotoMedia

A FIGHTING SPIRIT is evident in everything Aleka Thrash does. Thrash spent nearly a dozen years at Cornerstone University, including a stint from 2017-20 as an enrollment counselor for the professional and graduate program, before taking the entrepreneurial plunge a year ago and starting A.C.T. PhotoMedia, a photography and videography company. “Now that I am pursuing entrepreneurship full time, I am excited to not only grow my business, I am also eager to help other small businesses be successful by providing services that help powerfully tell their brand story in creative and engaging ways,” she said. “I am also passionate about helping women and teens overcome negative self-esteem by offering Love Me photography. This initiative was birthed out my struggles with not feeling good about myself.” Thrash advocates for people in her community, especially young people, who may have trouble finding their own voice. “In addition to growing A.C.T. PhotoMedia, I have a blog entitled ‘Naturally A.C.T.’ The purpose of my blog is to inspire individuals to live authentically.” Thrash also serves on the boards of the city’s To College, Through College initiative, the NexGen panel at Wedgwood Christian Services and the Our Black Legacy Fund at Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “Formerly the African American Heritage Fund, we recently transitioned our title to Our Black Legacy Fund, intentionally renaming the fund to honor the heritage of ancestors, invite a more inclusive understanding of Black communities in Kent County and create a legacy for future generations,” she said.



Owner The Candied Yam/Delightful Southern Cuisine/JA PR Group JESSICA ANN TYSON took a chance during COVID-19 and that risk is paying off handsomely for not just her restaurant, but for the community as a whole. “Our most significant achievement is that we are able to have the most diverse group of returning citizens. We stayed open during the pandemic so that we could keep our ‘family’ together,” said Tyson. “They are comprised of ex-felons, people who have had a past drug abuse (history) and mostly are individuals that are looked down upon and would not be considered hirable or worth investing in. We stayed open to keep them employed with a positive environment since there was no government programs to help them. We took a chance on them when no one else would.” Much of what Tyson does is very intentional. As a member of the executive committee for the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan, she helped implement best practices around diversity and inclusion. As board president of National Heritage Academies/River City Scholars, she facilitated laptops for all students during the COVID-19 shutdown. As executive board member for Kentwood Community Foundation, she helped engineer a 109-acre donation that eventually became Covenant Park. “My influence spans not only where I live but around the city, across the state and around the globe. I have been recognized in Africa by supporting 150 students going to school for years by purchasing books and uniforms,” she said. “As the president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Michigan, I am able to work with elected officials around the country, especially in D.C., to influence policies that create better outcomes for people that are marginalized.”

ANNEMARIE VALDEZ President, CEO First Steps Kent

ANNEMARIE VALDEZ COMES from a very large family, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that much of her work centers on youth in Kent County. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and she is the first generation in her family to attend college. Now, she wants to ensure youth who want to follow that same path have the tools necessary to do so. “My childhood and life experiences have given me a good foundation for equity work. A recent project of mine is called ‘Equity Talks,’” she said. “It is a film series (equitytalks. org) developed to be used in local college curriculum. The film series will be used to train early childhood educators how to bring up the conversation of race and equity early and often.” Valdez is president and CEO of First Steps Kent, which is charged with ensuring Kent County children reap the benefits of a millage proposal passed in 2018 designed to prepare them to succeed in school and life. “As funding administrator of the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage, First Steps Kent has become a trusted partner of the Kent County Board of Commissioners and administration,” she said. “First Steps Kent continues to partner with them on child care supports for both providers and families in Kent County.” In 2020, First Steps Kent was the administrator of $450,000 in CARES Act funding, which was distributed to child care providers throughout Kent County.


MICHELLE VAN DYKE President, CEO Heart of West Michigan United Way SOMETIMES THE PAST catches up with you. In Michelle Van Dyke’s case that’s a good thing. The president and CEO of Heart of West Michigan United Way had spent a 30-year career in the banking industry, so when the pandemic hit, she was ready. “Heart of West Michigan United Way has stepped up to meet the challenges of the pandemic from the beginning. We instituted the Coronavirus Response Fund — raising and distributing about $3.5 million — to meet the emergency needs of the community,” she said. “We also acted as the administrator for the Kent County CARES Act dollars for nonprofits. This year, our 2-1-1 Call Center took all vaccine registration calls for the state of Michigan (120,000 calls in the first six months of 2021), and we are administering the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance funding for Kent County (over $26 million has been distributed to date).” The organization also has stepped in to help specific underserved communities. “Heart of West Michigan United Way has made a commitment to funding nonprofits founded by people of color,” Van Dyke said. “We have funded 15 agencies with a total of over $300,000 for 2021-2022, and we are partnering with three agencies over three years to establish programming for young Black men in Kent County.” Van Dyke also serves on the boards of Davenport University and Fifth Third BankWest Michigan. “I am thrilled to be able to give back to the community in this way,” she said. “United Way is proving its relevance once again — especially in the past 20 months.”

CHRISTINA VANDAM Owner Zeal Aerial Fitness

CHRISTINA VANDAM IS a fan of flexibility, both personally and professionally. The owner of Zeal Aerial Fitness knows firsthand the difficulties of balancing work and life responsibilities. “As a mom of two young kiddos, I realize how hard the life/work balance can be sometimes. Too often, I feel like women feel this responsibility to be everything to everyone and we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves,” she said. “I hope that my story of Zeal can help encourage others to take something that they love and turn it into a career. Life takes us on expected paths, and sometimes, all we can do is enjoy the ride.” VanDam’s path started with teaching in the public schools, and she loved it. After eight years, however, she was let go. “Zeal then began as an idea of a new career for me. However, it was a scary leap to make having only been back in Grand Rapids for a few months. So, I started to research, conduct customer surveys, take entrepreneurship classes, connect with mentors and listen to what others had done,” she said. The studio opened three years later. “My main mission of Zeal has been to make aerial fitness accessible to all people. Accessibility ranges from physical barriers to language barriers,” VanDam said. “Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services has provided interpreters for a test class. We have also started a partnership with the Hispanic Center of West Michigan and ACT. Zeal had been an idea for so long, and now it is a physical community where we have the amazing opportunity to welcome all.”



LAUREN VANKEULEN IS determined to find a place for every homeless kid on the streets of Grand Rapids. The CEO of AYA Youth Collective, VanKeulen in 2021 helped engineer a merger between her organization, 3:11 Youth Housing, and Grand Rapids HQ, another organization addressing youth housing in Grand Rapids. “Prior to the merger, 3:11 Youth Housing and HQ were both providing critical and essential resources to youth. Both organizations identified relationships, community and a deep sense of belonging as core to every person involved in this work,” VanKeulen said. “To strengthen this core value, we felt that by becoming a collective — one instead of two organizations — would truly honor those values. Through that sense of belonging, AYA Youth Collective was formed.” AYA now provides a cohesive, streamlined approach to connect youth with services and housing resources, while still honoring each relationship. The organization is unique in its ability to provide critical resources from the moment a youth is in crisis, to identifying other core needs, to being housed, to working toward their unique goals and dreams, she said. VanKeulen called AYA’s work “crucial” to creating connection points where youth can move past trauma and begin healing. “In March 2021, 111 youth were on a (homeless) list in our community,” she said. “Currently, 93% of AYA housing alumni have achieved stability. We hope to grow that. We want to continue to disrupt the long-term cycles of poverty and homelessness by supporting youth in generational wealth creation through living-wage employment and home ownership. We believe that this group, this community, can actually end cycles of homelessness in our community.”



We congratulate our own Jaime Counterman for her inspired leadership and commitment to our mission of relentlessly advancing health to serve West Michigan.


Jaime and the Foundation partner with our leading medical experts to provide life-changing innovations and services that keep each patient at the heart of everything we do.

University of Michigan Health-West Foundation Director

Together, we are changing care and changing lives.

RACHEL VERWYS Executive director Safe Have Ministries

RACHEL VERWYS IS battling an issue in West Michigan that often doesn’t get the

attention it deserves: human trafficking.

VerWys is the executive director of Safe Haven Ministries, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering all survivors to find freedom from domestic violence while working to prevent and end relationship abuse. She’s also board chair of SEE Human Trafficking Coalition. “We organized a collective impact strategy which mobilized policy change to bring accountability to an exploitative industry in labor trafficking,” VerWys said of her work with SEE. “This collaborative framework brought in a $1.5 million human trafficking youth prevention grant to Kent ISD and recently leveraged a new federal grant to increase a cross-sector collaborative response strategy for human trafficking victims.” Human trafficking is a subject that doesn’t get much exposure due to its secretive nature. VerWys is eager to change that. “I am so proud of the work that I have done with partners and leaders the last four years to leverage imagination and possibility to bring over $4 million in new revenue to prevent human trafficking through education, increase access to trauma-informed services and training, expand housing options for those experiencing violence, and coordinate a multi-sector coordinated response to serve survivors of abuse and human trafficking,” she said. For VerWys, it’s a labor of love. “I love West Michigan. The work I lead ... is about community development, which honors dignity in each person and recognizes one another’s strengths.”


Marketing operations director Fishbeck JENNY WAUGH IS a believer in small victories. “In 2019, I was appointed as the first female chairperson of Algoma Township’s planning commission. This small honor is significant for local governments across the state, where there is a blatant lack of female leaders,” she said. “It is disheartening because there is much to be gained from different perspectives and voices at the table in local politics in order to strengthen and build our communities. I work hard to be a role model for females looking to get involved in politics even on a hyper-local level, board governance, or company leadership. I want to inspire others by blazing a trail, mentoring where possible and connecting the right resources to get someone started.” Much of what Waugh does could be used to inspire others. She is just starting the Women of Habitat Kent Council, a new group to help create more advocacy for affordable housing. She’s also the only female on the 25-member board of Associated Builders and Contractors, where she is helping ABC to create a new way to recruit board members that brings diversity to the forefront. Recently, Waugh helped create an industry-specific women’s group through Inforum to build networks and create more female leaders in the architecture/engineering/construction industry. “I am honored to have my expertise regularly sought out by various community organizations, marketing professionals and students,” she said. “I mentor others in my profession, I advise nonprofits on capital campaigns, and I assist clients with public relations and community development. In whatever way I can, I live to serve others and help make our community better.”



CEO Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS, Milinda Ysasi opens the door. In 2021, Ysasi left her position with The SOURCE, a workforce development agency, to assume the CEO’s role with Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women. She’s also the first Latina to serve on the Grand Rapids City Commission. When the pandemic hit, she and her husband worked with their Latinx networks to provide financial support for undocumented individuals via the La Lucha Fund, housed at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “I have a career that shows the path is not linear,” she said. “I started my career in human resources with companies like Cascade Engineering and Herman Miller. I then became a leader in workforce development with The SOURCE, working to reduce barriers to employment. In the last nine months, I became the CEO of GROW, a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institutions) that is focused on microloans to small businesses in West Michigan. I also serve as a city commissioner and co-founded The Latina Network. The common thread in my career has been about access to opportunity.” Ysasi also is a board member with the West Michigan Partnership for Children, Spectrum Health and People First, a position she assumed in August 2021. “While this is a new board seat for me, I have been engaged in this organization since 2017. For the past year we have focused efforts on educating the community to become hyper-local about their purchases as well as other financial systems. People First was a significant partner at the start of COVID with our city, county and The Right Place to deploy money to local business owners.”

Tina Freese Decker

Lisa Lowery, MD, MPH

President & CEO BHSH System

Section Chief Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, Spectrum Health and Assistant Dean of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, MSU College of Human Medicine

Transformational Influential people transform. They inspire. They innovate. They turn the impossible into the possible. Congratulations to Tina Freese Decker, Lisa Lowery, MD, MPH, and all honorees for being named one of 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by Grand Rapids Business Journal. Your passion, dedication and vision are inspiring and motivating. Here’s to transforming to meet today’s needs and to make a better, healthier future.

Improve health, inspire hope and save lives.™

Bold. Brilliant. The Broad Executive MBA would like to congratulate all the BOSS women being recognized in the West Michigan business community.

Elizabeth Krear Stellantis Class of 2013

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