Many Forms Forums For Leadership

May 23, 2006
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The metro area this week is witnessing business expansions creating additional jobs, some of them new types of jobs. In the same week the Small Business Administration celebrated "50 to Watch," companies that are innovative and which have carved a niche in specific business disciplines. To continue to spur such growth, information and admonitions were offered by Leadership Grand Rapids alumni celebrating the 20th anniversary of the program.

Beyond its mission to acquaint new leaders in this community to the nonprofit sector and spur philanthropy, the LGR effort provides important information elevating participant knowledge of the issues and economic factors unique to this community. The metro region can take some pride in the fact that current leaders are anxious and willing to share their time and keep the door open to new leaders in the community, unlike most other communities around the country.

The top agenda item in this convergence has been identified as education, most importantly continuing education. A part of that would be assuring that West Michigan residents understand this region is, and has been, a very real part of the "flat world" economy and continues to expand. Community leaders in this effort fear that ignorance of these facts will cost the community in its ability to grow competitively. Grand Valley State University President Mark Murray commented, "The status quo is tremendously popular. We need to push through the barrier."

Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Inc., notes that 80 foreign companies are located in West Michigan, and that the state of Michigan is the most international state for such investment. She told LGR alumni last week that "the brain of all things automotive still sits in Michigan." It is not incidental that Right Place Vice President Ray DeWinkle and other staff members were on trade missions last week with Gov. Jennifer Granholm to Japan, also making stops in Korea and Europe

Bob Roth, whose RoMan Manufacturing business is now the only full-line manufacturer in its category in North America, has diversified the business with RoMan Engineering Services providing technical support to Big Three OEMs and new foreign/domestic automakers. He also put the company in China several years ago to supply the Chinese auto market, now third in the world.

In a story reported in the Business Journal last year, Roth noted, "I hear people say 'How do you compete with 50 cents an hour?' If it was as simple as cheap labor, why would Hyundai — (which) pays something like a buck an hour in its country — be building a plant in the United States of America?" As is noted in this edition, Honda plans a $1.3 billion international expansion, including site-seeing in the Midwest

Jeff Meyer, Van Andel Global Trade Center, looking at the future, offered one word: "India." It's where we have to be.

Leaders in this community also are "doers," certain of what needs to be done and committed to accomplishment.

The Leadership Grand Rapids program provides the most far-reaching opportunity for businesses and community leaders to understand the dynamics, continue education and train the next generation. Some leaders are born, but most can be made.    

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