Diverse City

May 16, 2005
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Many people in West Michigan believe that if the region is to reach the next level of its development, diversity must play a major role.

Key to that goal is a welcoming attitude, and a lot of that starts with businesses.

Last month, a subtle change occurred in the fabric of Cascade Township.

Ground was broken for West Michigan’s first Sikh Temple on a seven-acre site at the corner of Cascade Road and Quiggle Avenue.

The date of the groundbreaking, April 17, was no random choice. It’s a significant day in the Sikh religion, the day of the Baisakhi festival celebrating the 306th year of the birth of Khalsa.

General contractor FCC Inc., which has been doing business here for more than 40 years, is overseeing the project. The Sikhs are understandably excited, and the event drew more than 150 friends and family of the congregation, or sangat.

“The members of our sangat are all very excited about the groundbreaking. April 17th was a day of great accomplishment. The plans to build a state-of-the-art Gurudwara Sahib Building/temple in West Michigan had finally taken a physical shape, ” said Dr. TejinderMander, president of The Sikh Society of West Michigan.

The Sikh Society of West Michigan is currently meeting and worshiping in the banquet hall of a local hotel owned by one of its members. The society plans to continue meeting and worshiping there until the completion of its temple. Twice a month the same space is also offered to the Hindu community for its religious gatherings.

Those outside the Sikh community also recognize the significance of the project.

“FCC has been involved in the construction of many projects over the years but this is a rare opportunity for us to increase the quality of life for the members of The Sikh Society of West Michigan,” said TimFredricks, president of FCC. “Construction of the new temple is scheduled to be completed in December 2005.”

JeanneEnglehart, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, hopes the temple can be a catalyst for more diversity in West Michigan.

“It is heartening to hear that Grand Rapids will be home to the first Sikh Temple in West Michigan. Diversity of thought, culture and religion are all contributing factors in recruiting and retaining a diverse work force rich in intellectual capital to our marketplace,” she said. “This is why the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce makes diversity and issues surrounding diversity one of our three core competencies.”

Many West Michigan companies strive to recruit and retain diversity in their work force. Englehart said the development of temples and other places to meet and worship are a positive step to create an environment that welcomes and helps retain people of other cultures to the area.

“Competitive salaries and benefits will draw professionals of diverse cultures to West Michigan, but unless we diversify our community enough to make those of other cultures feel comfortable here professionally, personally and spiritually, we will not be able to retain them.”

And that’s why a welcoming attitude will push West Michigan to the next level.

  • In addition to being a funny guy, KevinElko is a sports psychologist and looks more than just a little like former Denver Broncos quarterback JohnElway

But that’s not why the hundreds of people at last week’s Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Celebration 2005 will remember him.

Elko just makes people feel better.

Everyone interviewed at the Business Showcase following Elko’s luncheon speech agreed they liked his presentation, and his stories, and his corny jokes, and his self-deprecating humor, and his poignant examples of children in need. But when pressed, most couldn’t put their finger on his “message.” The title of the talk, “Nerves of Steel,” didn’t really fit. The “Tips to Stay Out of the ‘Duck’ Pond At Work and Home” cheat sheet was good, but more of an outline than anything else. Name-dropping anecdotes involving DeionSanders and various Pittsburgh Steelers football players were humorous, but not terribly enlightening.

Yet most people left the DeVos Place luncheon smiling and almost all were talking about the speech.

And, most likely, that was the point. Talking, laughing and interacting — all of them make people feel good. Best of all, however, Elko did it without directing people to stand up and face the person next to them, hug one another or share family secrets.

Maybe that’s why people were more relaxed.

  • Here’s a chance to learn from the master.

Anyone with any interest in how to use a computer to track down pertinent information for their business should attend a June 29 seminar by The Right Place Inc. and Ferris State University-Grand Rapids.

Called “Cybersleuthing,” the half-day presentation will examine such topics as search engine power searching, searching alternative formats, locating dependable and high quality company and industry data, aggregated information sites and automatic information gathering systems.

In reality, however, it’s a chance to match wits with JennyShangraw, Right Place’s information research manager. Shangraw, who has been doing this sort of thing for about three decades, is the master of uncovering numbers and trends and putting them into a readable format. If you love statistics, you’ll love Shangraw.

Her job title has morphed into “cybrarian,” and the term certainly fits.

The event is 9 a.m. to noon at the Applied Technology Center. For information call 771-0343.

  • Nice call. As part of a settlement with Sprint Communications over “slamming” charges, Attorney General MikeCox and Kent County Prosecutor WilliamForsyth on Friday presented Women’s Resource Center Executive Director SharonCaldwell-Newton with 250 cell phones and $25,000 in calling cards to be used by the center’s clients as they work to rebuild their lives.    

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