Diversity No Small Achievement For Area

October 14, 2004
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The metro area was given highlights of several new construction projects last week, some anticipated, one not.

"We have shared a vision and that is improving the quality of life in Grand Rapids by doing all we can to breathe new life into some of the city's most treasured neighborhoods."

The speaker happened to be Michael VanGessel, president of Rockford Construction Co. He was not speaking of the announced multi-million-dollar Marriott Hotel, but the two, three-story townhouse/apartment complexes to be built by LuDell-White Development LLC at 1221 Madison Ave. It should be considered among the most important projects in the city.

LuDell-White managing partner James White underscored the considerations: "This housing project will be a critical component in the continued revitalization of the Madison Square neighborhood and will provide the tenants with a great opportunity to establish credit and eventually build equity."

The development company selected the local architectural firm of Isaac V. Norris & Associates, Rockford Construction, Millennium Realty and Mercantile Bank as project partners. National City Bank is an equity investor. There could be no better example of accomplishment of diverse partners in this, Minority Business Week.

That said, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will spotlight several more examples of success during its Minority Business luncheon Oct. 12, chief among them the example set by Grand Valley State University in its minority vendor and supplier program — which started in 1985. The recognition is especially noteworthy for GVSU's tenacity in building the program, from one which first required full-time searching for minority businesses and minority alliances, to one that has become so successful GVSU began another program. As word of GVSU's success spread, it became a resource for other, mostly public or nonprofit institutions. The university then created the Regional Alliance for Diversity in Public Purchasing.

Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett is yet another long-time minority business advocate, with programs reaching back more than a decade. Partner David Rhem notes the firm's interest extends well beyond its own ranks and has provided financial support for an incredibly diverse array of businesses and nonprofit groups.

Rhem also said the firm has witnessed an increasing number of Fortune 500 firms which are demanding proof of such alliances. "They have diversity on their agenda and that's what they ask us when they put out requests for proposals. The question has gone beyond 'what are your numbers?' to 'what are you actually doing?'" he said.

This week provides proof that one program or action begets another. Businesses throughout the metro area are likely to hear such pre-requisites, not just from Fortune 500 companies, but local businesses as well.    

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