Paper Lions

July 26, 2004
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When is a chamber of commerce endorsement not a chamber of commerce endorsement? We're not sure, either. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, for instance, only houses a political action group, much as it does other programs that may have been started by the chamber but are no longer under the chamber auspices, at least not entirely. Like the Neighborhood Business Program.

The PAC, called "Friends of West Michigan Business," has a membership all its own, most of whom pay to play (though it is not a requirement). The group has, for the past several years, interviewed Michigan House and Senate candidates, city commission candidates etc., and then voted and endorsed specific individuals for office prior to the primary elections. Such endorsements have been the subject of press releases on Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce letterhead.

Grand Rapids Business Journal called after endorsements for the state House were received, to determine how chamber members were polled for the endorsement. Chamber President Jeannie Englehart explained the procedure, saying the endorsements were the specific work of the Friends of West Michigan Business, led by Dan DeVos

This week, however, the endorsement of Kent County Commission candidates came on "Friends" letterhead, which still includes the subtitle, "Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee," and included a quote from staffer JaredRodriguez, who shared, "We at the chamber take great pride in our open endorsement process," and this explanation:

"All candidate interviews were conducted by a panel consisting of Chamber PAC members, and endorsements were made with the unanimous approval of all those serving on the Friends of West Michigan Business Committee."

Some among the membership indicated they had "heard" that endorsements for state legislators went beyond business issues, however, and included specific discussion and consideration of those who had Right to Life endorsements. Englehart said she did not believe that Right to Life endorsements were a defining consideration for those endorsements.

  • Any of those potential candidates with financial concerns might want to listen to a tip from one of their brethren in office.

Rep. BillVanRegenmorter, R-Georgetown Township, says many Michigan residents could find that they have money or other assets waiting to be claimed. He said Michigan, as well as some other states, has millions of dollars in lost or forgotten assets from dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks, valuables left in safe deposit boxes and stock certificates.

"A number of citizens have assets of which they are not aware," Van Regenmorter said. "If you are interested to see if you have any unclaimed assts, visit the state treasury's Web site. A review of the site by my office revealed dozens of names of West Michigan residents."

Van Regenmorter said interested parties can visit the site www.michigan.gov/treasury and click on "unclaimed property." A link also is available to search unclaimed assets from other states.

For those without Internet access, the information is available by calling Van Regenmorter's office at (800) 968-2320.

  • While it's unlikely that JimHackett, MikeVolkema and the rest of the office furniture makers are on the unclaimed assets list, there seems to be more good news for the industry as a whole.

Further evidence of the rebound in the office furniture industry came out of Iowa last week when the company formerly known as Hon Inc. put up some solid numbers.

HNI Inc., as the company is now called, reported office furniture sales of $384.7 million for the second quarter. Overall, that's a 26.6 percent increase over the second quarter in 2003, although you do have to take a couple things out to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

Still, even minus the sales from a recent acquisition that accounted for 8.5 percentage points of the sales increase and the $21 million of purchases that customers made in advance of a price increase, the HNI Inc. numbers are quite impressive.

We only hope the momentum now building for HNI and office furniture makers here in West Michigan can continue for some time as the industry digs out from the deep hole it fell into the past three years.

  • So are we out of the "recession" and headed toward happy days?

Last week's online survey at www.grbj.com asked, "With the office furniture industry 'reclustering' in West Michigan, several big firms reporting double-digit earnings, and SBAM surveys predicting a job boom, can we say the economy is now in good shape?"

Well, maybe.

Although 36.4 percent of those responding did so affirmatively, the rest were not quite as upbeat.

Half of those answering chose, "For some companies it's good, for others it's not so good."

The rest? They opted for this response: "Who knows? National job growth slowed since the first quarter."

  • Finally, the network that has tackled such weighty issues as childbirth, dating, weddings and home improvement is weighing in on small business.

TLC in October will debut "Taking Care of Business," a 13-week series that seeks to move featured small businesses from "in the red" to "in the money."

Like the rest of its programs, TLC will use a "dream team" of experts to help turn things around for small businesses and follow their progress throughout the course of the show.

Here's the next wave of stars coming to a TV near you. RichardLaermer, CEO of RLM Public Relations, will build buzz and create hype. Veteran retailer and designer ChristinaManca will create eye-catching visuals (Victoria's Secret is one of her success stories). MitchKates, strategic consultant and principal at Kurt Salmon Associates in New York, is the management maven. And MarkBecker, founder of Max and Mina's Ice Cream, is the "go-with-your-gut" consultant.

Looks like Fifth Third Bank spokesperson and "Trading Spaces" host PaigeDavis has some company.

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