2002 Opportunity And Heartache Jan.

December 27, 2002
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Everything old is new again, or at least it seemed that way as 2001 slid into 2002. Many of the issues facing West Michigan and the country as the old year closed didn’t recognize the changing of the calendar to the New Year.

But does that mean it was “business as usual” for West Michigan in 2002? Hardly. The most difficult economic year in at least a decade caught some flat-footed while others accepted the challenge and thrived.

Here, and in articles for the next four days, is a review of 2002, a year that will be remembered as much for an economic downturn as for the opportunity to showcase resiliency.

January

The Business Journal opened the year by noting that bankruptcies hit an all-time high, with more than 12,000 Chapter 11, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 filings in the Western District of U.S. Bankruptcy Court. It was an ominous beginning to an inauspicious year.

Congressman Vern Ehlers said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the state of the economy, but sounded a warning that another terrorist attack could ruin the recovery. He also sounded the alarm regarding the rising cost of health care. While another attack on U.S. soil would prove unfounded, the health care issue did, in fact, throw a wrench into the plans of many businesses.

One man at the forefront of that battle would be Bob Smedes, who signed on as Metropolitan Hospital’s new chief financial officer, and oversaw a sometimes contentious process of moving Metro toward a new campus in Wyoming.

Financially, Mercantile Bank positioned itself for a banner year by announcing that fourth quarter net income jumped by 60 percent to $4.5 million.

Trouble was brewing on the Lakeshore, however, as even a $36.6 million safety net from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. couldn’t convince Kraft Food North America to keep its Holland Lifesavers plant from sinking.

In health news, a nice succession plan — this one of the personnel variety — allowed Holland Community Hospital to replace longtime CEO Judy Newham with her handpicked replacement, Dale Sowders.

In sports, the Griffins announced a brand new affiliation with the Detroit Red Wings, who would go on to win the 2002 Stanley Cup.

The month ended on a celebratory note as Grand Rapids Business Journal recognized Kent County officials for their leadership with the 2002 Newsmaker of the Year Award.

February

The month opened with something new to talk about. Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie announced a campaign for a full-time mayor’s position for the city. He later announced he would not run for the full-time job. Later still, the measure was defeated — resoundingly — in the November elections.

Discussion of a different sort centered on the effectiveness of the Certificate of Need (CON) program, which is charged with regulating and governing health care capital investments and clinical services across the state. The discussion would last for the entire year.

Financially, big public companies Universal Forest Products and Wolverine World Wide stepped up with good quarterly reports, a trend that both companies would follow for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, another trend was started when the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association reported that the industry lost $2.3 billion in 2001. That downward spiral would continue throughout the year, too.

The next generation of local ownership also started in February when Hank Meijer, grandson of founder Hendrik Meijer, became CEO of the family’s multimillion-dollar grocery and general merchandise retail operation.

Changes were afoot at the Ford Airport, too, as new fingerprint scanning equipment arrived. Later, it would be matched with beefed up security, new baggage inspection equipment and a host of other federally mandated security measures.

There was no mandate, but Mike Funk, CEO of North Ottawa Community Health System, resigned suddenly, just as the health system was coming back to solid financial footing.

Change of a better sort came when Lake Michigan Credit Union emerged from the former CU Financial Group with a community charter from the state, allowing it to attract members from Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties.

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