20 Years Of Journal History

January 3, 2003
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Grand Rapids Business Journal is celebrating its 20-year anniversary with a little history of its own. Throughout the year, the Journal will revisit significant events that occurred each week 20, 15 and 10 years ago. For longtime Grand Rapidians, this is a chance to test historical trivia. For newcomers, it's a chance to "catch up" with everyone else.

Twenty Years Ago

When the Grand Rapids Business Journal first appeared in 1983, it was a slick-paper magazine-format publication. A casual glance through the first edition's 12 pages reveals some similarities to this week's version. John Zwarensteyn is still the publisher and that first edition contained many of the same standing headlines you find in these pages: Street Talk, Change Ups and Money Matters, which was giving the eternal good advice to "Find A Tax Advisor Now."

Twenty years, however, has wrought a lot of changes not only in the Business Journal, but also in the community it covers. The unemployment rate was 10.8 percent, but that was good news, for joblessness had dropped a whole percentage point in 30 days.

Our first edition notes that Blodgett and Butterworth hospitals had just abandoned their plans to merge operations, citing anti-trust concerns.

A new law firm had just started the four-month process of arising out of a merger. Its name was Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett, the result of a merger of two companies with far less manageable monikers: Varnum, Riddering, Wierengo & Christenson, and Schmidt, Howlett, Van't Hof, Snell & Vana.

The initiators of the merger were Robert J. Eleveld and Hillary Snell. The merged practice would bulge the seventh and eighth floors of Mutual Home Building, giving rise to the largest law firm in the county and one of the largest in Michigan.

A new Michigan Statistical Abstract showed that per capita income in Kent County was $10,586, ranking ninth in the state.

Street Talk by the Business Journal's editor, John Brosky, revealed:

"Grand Rapids won the battle and apparently the war for Broadway shows. Fighting against the 3,400-seat Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids' own DeVos Hall, at 2,400 seats, didn't seem to have a chance, especially with Miller's booking agent Gordon Smith stamping a protection clause on all his contracts. Promoter Ken Shaw out of Toledo ignored all the opposition. He risked everything on "Annie" last year and won sellouts. He tried again with "Evita" in spring, and even up against Super Bowl weekend, he sold out. That broke Miller's fighting spirit and the exclusivity clause was lifted. The result is the star-packed series for DeVos this fall by Shaw."

Fifteen Years Ago

Looking at 1987 in review, the Business Journal reported that:

  • A locally based avionics and instruments manufacturer, Lear Siegler Inc., was bought for $350 million by Smiths Industries PLC, a British aerospace and defense firm.
  • The Right Place Program named Birgit Klohs as its executive director. Previously, she was the assistant director of the Grand Valley State College Office for Economic Expansion.
  • Due to opposition from many residents, the Walker City Commission tabled a zoning request from Weatherford Walker Developments to change the zoning of Green Ridge Country Club from agricultural to commercial and residential, which would have cleared the way for a mall.
  • City Centre officials approved adding a fifth floor to the four-story shopping center to house the Social Security Administration.
  • The Grand Rapids City Commission approved a 34-page contract called the East Bank Project.
  • Autodie Corp. reported a 97 percent drop in earnings for the last fiscal year. Earnings were $180,521, compared to $5.7 million the year before.
  • X-Rite reported a 38 percent increase in third quarter sales — up to $5.1 million from $3.7 million for a comparable period the year before. The company advised that the increase was thanks to sales of three new models of densitometers.
  • Manufacturers National Bank of Grand Rapids — formerly Manufacturers Bank of Coopersville — opened its doors at 50 Monroe Place.
  • In the wake of the October stock market meltdown — a 508-point single-day plunge in the Dow Jones averages — the local office of H.B. Shaine followed the rest of the firm and closed. Rodman and Renshaw, a Chicago-based brokerage, bought the firm and reopened the local offices. Meanwhile, several investors who lost heavily in the crash brought suit against Shaine.

Ten Years Ago

As the exterior granite was still being cut and lifted into place, tenants began moving into the new Bridgewater Place.

Fred Keller, president of Cascade Engineering Inc., predicted that Grand Rapids manufacturers were entering the first phase of a transformation as the economy became more dependent on international business cycles. He said area manufacturers were likely to become global trade powerhouses, particularly those fabricating surgical and medical supplies, industrial machinery, laboratory and testing equipment and pollution control equipment.

Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley absolved Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth Inc. of any criminal acts in connection with allegations of misuse or mismanagement of donated funds.

Looking at 1992 and its own first decade in review, the Business Journal introduced a new feature called Newsmaker of the Year.

The first recipient of that designation was Richard M. DeVos, in the wake of his decision to name his son, Dick, president of the company.           

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