Looming UAW Strike Produced Waves

November 19, 2003
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Grand Rapids Business Journal is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month with a little history of its own. Throughout the year, the Journal has revisited significant events that occurred each week 20, 15 and 10 years ago. For longtime Grand Rapidians, this is a chance to test their retention of historical trivia. For newcomers, it's a chance to catch up with everyone else.

Twenty Years Ago

  • Bob Murphy, president of Corduroy Rubber, said the possible strike against automakers by the United Auto Workers would cause very heavy losses for local auto suppliers and their workers.

Murphy's firm manufactured engine mounts, body insulators and other accessories for General Motors.

Agreeing was Dan Lacks, president of Lacks Industries, a plastics manufacturer. "If the strike were effective the 14th, we'd have an immediate shutdown." Haig Kassouni, general manager of Agape Plastics, said, "We've notified our suppliers that if there is a strike, the brakes go on all around."

  • Union Bank forked over a check for $4,009.24 on a bale of hay to the Blandford Farm, a stunt symbolizing the start of a bank-sponsored stock sale.

Sale of the certificates was double the projections, yet still came up about $5,000 short of meeting the farm's annual operating costs of $40,000.

  • Construction was scheduled to begin in 1984 on the Riverfront Plaza, a six-story building to be located south of the existing Oldtown Riverfront Building.

Riverfront Development Co. announced it was the project developer, working with John Mayaard of Northwest Mutual Life Insurance as managing partner.

Mayaard said owners of condominium space in the building were Wolverine Gas & Oil; DeWinter Associates; Crowe, Chizek & Co., a South Bend-based accounting firm; and Dykema, Gossett, Spenser, Goodau & Trigg, a Detroit-based law firm that recently merged with some local lawyers from Baxter & Hammond.

  • Zimdar Enterprises was named to INC. magazine's 500 — a list recognizing the United States' fastest growing, privately owned companies.

Zimdar shared the distinction with 12 other Michigan firms, but was the only one of the group based in West Michigan.

The Wyoming company was listed 430th out of INC.'s 500.

  • The president of Old Kent Financial Corp., John Canepa, announced that two of Old Kent's affiliates — Pacesetter Bank & Trust-Southwest and Pacesetter National Bank — were merged to form Old Kent Bank-Southwest.

He said the new bank had 17 offices throughout southern Michigan and assets of $200 million.

Canepa said he believed the common identity allowed better communication about new services.

  • Rick Weronko of WTWN announced he changed the radio station's call letters to WYCE-FM, where he had been appointed as station manager starting Nov. 5.

He said WYCE — funded by Wyoming Community Education, hence its call letters — was to be an all-volunteer station (except for him) where students and graduates could hone their broadcast skills and learn something about the business.

He planned for WYCE to broadcast music, weather, sports and news.

Fifteen Years Ago

  • The 29 members of the inaugural Leadership Michigan class came here for sessions on economic development and a discussion of Grand Rapids' beneficial public-private sector partnerships.

The 1988 class was a Michigan version of the popular Leadership Grand Rapids organization with the same purpose: to help a cross section of mid-career professionals become familiar with important social, political and economic issues.

Among well-known local members of the current Leadership Michigan class were Jim Barrett, president of the Michigan State Chamber of Commerce; Hal Sibley, executive vice president of the WBDC Group; and John Zwarensteyn, Gemini Corp. publisher.

  • Hyundai announced that it broke ground for its first automobile dealership in Michigan, scheduled for completion in the spring. The ceremony took place at the southeast corner of Acquest Avenue and 28th Street SE.

The firm that bought the Hyundai franchise was Go West Automotive Group owned by Alan Brokette, who predicted that, once opened, the dealership would sell between 1,200 and 1,800 cars a year.

  • Grand Rapids officials were served a hard dose of reality when North Carolina-based Faison Associates told them the city cannot support a new "destination point" retail facility.

Faison was asked to prepare a proposal to develop the Wurzburg Block — the northwest corner of Monroe Center and Louis Street — that housed the Monroe Amphitheater, Hong Kong Inn, Millie's Palm Beach Cafe and a parking lot.

The project was to have featured an 18-story office building and — by 1995 — 150,000 square feet of retail space. Faison said, "Nobody is going to do 150,000 square feet of retail today."

  • The owner of Grand Valley Corvette Shop Inc., 5350 Alpine Ave., sued WZZM TV-13, claiming the broadcaster defamed him in a February news report.

Robert Bouwma, the dealership owner, and his wife filed the suit in connection with a news story that he said falsely linked his firm to a stolen car "chop shop" operation.

Bouwma's attorney said that a police investigation did implicate an employee of the firm in such an operation but that Bouwma himself never was the subject of the investigation and was unfairly portrayed to the contrary.

  • Although county officials appeared optimistic that an increase in the local hotel/motel tax was the best way to raise funds for a new public museum to be built west of the river, the president of the Greater Grand Rapids Lodging Association felt otherwise.

Phil Lange, the association president, said the association had no reason to support the move, claiming that city officials were "taking the easy way out because no one wants to pay the money. They think the visitors won't squawk, but they will."

The Museum Development Advisory Group recommended raising the Kent County hotel/motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent to raise $7.4 million needed to complete the museum funding proposal.

  • GOP National Committeeman Peter Secchia said Democratic Party grumbling about "nasty" Republican presidential ads needed to be put in perspective.

Secchia noted that when Andrew Jackson ran for office, he was accused of being an atheist who as president would close the nation's churches, burn Bibles and encourage murder, rape and incest.

He said that, by contrast, it was hardly nasty for the GOP to use the "L word" against Michael Dukakis.

  • Wolverine World Wide credited Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika with opening the Soviet Union's door to the Rockford company's Hush Puppies brand.

Thomas Gleason, Wolverine's chairman, said he expected that, based on the policies of political openness and economic new thinking, the firm would be selling footwear to Soviet consumers by 1989.

At the time, the firm was selling Hush Puppies in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria.

Ten Years Ago

  • As other states continued to lure Michigan businesses, officials here said their priority was to get the word out that there was reason for firms to stay.

Officials of the newly formed Michigan Jobs Commission acknowledged that their efforts to help state businesses still were in their infancy — and still not widely recognized by some of their intended beneficiaries.

"I think we are being very aggressive to work with companies that are here in Michigan, to a degree that we never have before," said Doug Rothwell, CEO of the Jobs Commission. "This is new. It's something we've just started up."

  • Scott DeGaynor, the key sponsor of a proposed intermodal transport center, received little corroboration for his claim of widespread support and endorsements.

DeGaynor was urging Grand Rapids city officials to approve locating the center on property he owned at Wealthy Street and Grandville Avenue, the site of a terminal for Greyhound, Indian Trails and Trailways bus lines.

The carriers indicated interest in the plan, but there was scant evidence for DeGaynor's claim of state, federal and civic endorsements of his so-called "Three Ed" plan.

  • Gantos Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court here.

The filing culminated a year in which sales had dropped dramatically from a strong 1992 and the women's apparel retailer was forced to seek creative financing from its bank.

Gantos entered the court with a $9 million debtor-in-possession loan, which it presented to the court for approval.

  • Analysts and observers called Amway's entry into the People's Republic of China an ideal match.

Amway took a big step in preparation for its 1995 entry into the Chinese market by announcing it would make a public stock offering of between $126 million and $142 million for Amway Asia Pacific Ltd., a newly created Hong Kong-based Bermuda company.

It said the firm would be Amway's distribution vehicle into China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Macao, New Zealand and Australia. The total initial public offering was to represent 15 percent interest in Amway Asia Pacific Ltd.

  • Bob Hooker, chairman of Great Lakes Mazda, agreed to chair the Grand Action fund-raising campaign beginning in spring 1994.

Hooker came to Grand Action via his participation as finance chairman of Grand Vision.

The fund-raising would be in support of Grand Action's proposal to expand the Grand Center into a full-fledged convention venue.

  • Gov. John Engler agreed to speak at the Michigan Economic Development and Jobs Creation Summit scheduled for Dec. 6 at Grand Valley State University's Eberhard Center.

Other speakers on the panel were to be Doug Rothwell, CEO of the Michigan Jobs Commission; Timothy Bartik, of the Upjohn Institution for Employment Research; John Kennedy, of Autocam Corp.; Guy Jones, AC Rochester Division, GMC; Stan Wisinski, prominent Grand Rapids industrial real estate broker; Birgit Klohs, The Right Place Program; and Michael Michalski, Muskegon Economic Growth Alliance.

  • Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) reported being in its fourth year of teaching women the insights and techniques needed to be successful in their own businesses.

In six classes, GROW said that so far it had graduated 75 women from its intensive 12 weeks of training, which included development of business plans critiqued by area business bankers.

LeeAnn Moss, GROW's executive director, said the program came into being to fill a gap in services to women and to challenge barriers that traditionally made it difficult for women to be successful in their own businesses.

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