Hazekamp Lauded By Chamber

May 5, 2006
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MUSKEGON — Change and adaptation are the keys to business, according to Dave Hazekamp, the 2005 Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year.

“You have to continue to change,” said Hazekamp, president of Hazekamp Meats/Premier Foods.

As the third-generation owner of his company and the first to veer from the traditional slaughterhouse business, Hazekamp said he and the management team re-evaluate the company on an annual basis.

“We reinvent ourselves every five years,” he said.

Part of that reinvention has been growth. With the most recent $2 million expansion of 25,000 square feet, the company now has reached more than 100,000 square feet of space.

“You have to continue to act like a startup (company) every day,” he said.

Hazekamp, who was among three nominees recognized at the chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year luncheon May 2, was honored to have been chosen by the committee members.

“I’m really surprised,” he said. “It’s absolutely a great honor.”

The other nominees were Ted Fricano, owner of Fricano’s MuskegonLake, and Bob Brady of GMI Composites.

Selection Committee Chairman Bob Scolnik said it was a difficult choice between the three nominees.

“There were three winners,” he said. “Just one happened to get a plaque.”

Scolnik said while all three had incredible stories, Hazekamp’s revitalization of the family company was very compelling.

“He took the company that had been there for 100 years and changed direction. It was like changing the direction of the Titanic,” he said of Hazekamp’s diversification of the slaughterhouse after he took over in 1992.

The company started in 1905 and was run by Hazekamp’s great-grandfather, grandfather and father as a slaughterhouse, until he assessed the dwindling red-meat market and developed the first 97 percent fat-free beef product, which was carried at first by D&W stores. From there the company grew, adding 15,000 square feet in 1994, 30,000 square feet in 1996, another 15,000 in 1998, and the most recent expansion of 25,000 square feet. The company has also grown from eight employees in 1992 to anywhere from 90 to 120 employees currently, depending on the season.

It now boasts Meijer Inc. and several other grocery chains as some of its largest customers.

Scolnik, who toured each of the nominees businesses and conducted interviews, said the facility was clean, well-run and a pleasure to tour.

Fred Keller, CEO and founder of Cascade Engineering, was the event’s keynote speaker. Keller discussed the importance of the variety of factors that go into being an entrepreneur, including characteristics, personality traits, vision, dialogue and action. He talked about the traits and characteristics he got from his own family, such as his work ethic. Keller also spoke about the startup of his business and its evolution into the $300 million in sales and 1,100 employees that it has today.

Keller said he has three main capital investments: economic, social and ecological.

It’s called the triple bottom line.

Though people have been skeptical about his dedication to social capital, such as his company’s welfare-to-career program that helped improve employee retention to 97 percent, Keller said the philosophy has been worth it.

“It did not take away from our financial capital as we worked to develop that,” he said.

Innovation would not be possible without entrepreneurs, Keller said.

“Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of America,” he said. “We set goals and figure out ways to make it happen, and that’s where innovation occurs.”    

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