Chamber Launches DBE Center

March 23, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — With the help of Bing Goei and Eastern Floral and Gifts, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is hoping to provide tools for minorities and women in business through the new International Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence to be housed at the planned Eastern Floral headquarters.

Goei, chamber chairman and president of Eastern Floral, said part of the 3.5-acre property that he is developing as a new headquarters for his business at the former Kindel Furniture Co. site on Butterworth Street will be designated as space for the center, which will include a business incubator. Goei said the donated space is part of his family’s dedication to growing small businesses owned by women and minorities.

The center is part of the chamber’s strategic planning for growth and would focus on women and minority entrepreneurs, but will not exclude other business owners, Goei said.

Still in the planning stages, Goei said the center is a way for the GRACC to anticipate the future of small business and be proactive in growing the economy.

“We see this as a need and an opportunity for the chamber to provide supplementary services for that,” he said.

Goei said he would like to see Grand Rapids become a national leader in offering services and support for small and growing businesses to flourish.

“It’s a proactive way that the chamber is looking at what the future is going to hold for the region,” he said. “We’re proactively seeking new ways of meeting the needs and filling the gaps.”

Chamber President Jeanne Englehart said the chamber is working on other ways to engage members and serve the community in addition to serving minorities and women.

“We are the community and the community owns us,” she said.

Englehart said current programs such as Leadership Grand Rapids, Silent Observer, the new Family Owned Business Institute at Grand Valley State University, and the many networking and membership events the chamber offers have a been a successful way of serving, connecting, retaining and building chamber members.

The chamber had a 20 percent rise in membership in 2006 and a retention rate of 87 percent, which Englehart said is rare among chambers nationally, which have been losing members.

Englehart said she believes the chamber is growing past the decline that it has seen in the five years before that and is looking toward the future.

“I think we’re getting smarter and being more strategic with our events,” she said. “We must be doing something right because people are coming back and people are joining new.”

With a focus on growing small business, Englehart said one of the most successful programs has been the CEO Roundtable, which gives company leaders a peer group with which to discuss problems and an informal board of trustees to help them.

“It fills a need businesses have,” she said.

Goei said though the chamber serves all businesses, large and small, helping the smaller business start, grow and find the opportunities to become large businesses is what will help the Michigan economy.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the number of small businesses in Michigan has grown from 765,000 in 2004 to 822,000 in 2005.

Englehart said as more and more new small businesses succeed, the excitement is growing.

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