A Special Window To 25 Years

September 23, 2008
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It’s silver! Yes, 25 years is certainly a major business milestone. We are proud of that as it says something significant about this community and our staff. The excitement and enthusiasm with which we launched the Grand Rapids Business Journal in 1983 is still there as we relive the past 25 in this issue and put the finishing touches on our new “Business Journal for the 21st century,” which we will unveil next week!

When we launched the Grand Rapids Business Journal, we were one of the few business journals anywhere in the U.S., and the only publication in Michigan devoted entirely to business news. We were pioneers. It was risky and it was challenging.

My position as founder of this publication has provided me a unique window to witness the changes to the Grand Rapids economy and landscape.

In 1983, Grand Rapids had just opened the Amway Grand Plaza tower building and Steelcase had just opened its new international headquarters. Monroe Mall was being “improved” for what seemed the “umpteenth” time, and the economy of Grand Rapids was clearly booming. This followed a series of economic challenges such as high gas prices, 23 percent interest rates, shortages, auto slump, and difficult economic challenges. Sound familiar?

Prior to 1983, business news in Grand Rapids did not exist — at least not in the sense it does today. One of our former editors was fond of saying, “Grand Rapids was a bit like the Soviet Union. There was the official newspaper — the local daily — which you could not rely upon for anything related to business. And then there was the real news network: the grapevine.”

The creation of the Business Journal caused the local daily to pay attention to business coverage. The broadcast media soon followed, and years later, other competitors entered the market by providing business advocacy, information, events coverage, or a combination of these. But most shied away from hard news.

We started with a dream and an unknown future, similar to other business startups. We sought to provide great journalism for the business community, where no one else had ventured. Week after week, the Business Journal ran articles about business before any mention appeared in the daily, or anywhere else. The Business Journal filled the news void for those who took their business news seriously and didn’t like having it ignored or minimized by the daily or dumped into 10-second sound bites by broadcasters.

I often think about the many outstanding people I have come to know via my special “window.” It is both awesome and inspiring. It has been a privilege. There is not enough space to recognize them all, but I appreciate their support, encouragement, contributions, ideas and comments.

During these past 25 years, we have written often about the spectacular growth of Amway, Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth, Universal Forest Products, Grand Valley State, Ferris State, Western Michigan and Michigan State universities, Cooley Law School, Calvin, Hope, Davenport, Aquinas and Grand Rapids Community colleges, Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care and Metro hospitals, Meijer Inc., Spartan Stores, the Amway Grand Plaza and JW Marriott, “Pill Hill” and the Medical Mile, etc. And also about the hundreds of commercial developments that have added to the landscape and economic prosperity — too many to mention.

We have also seen our area recreational pleasures expand: White Pine, Kent and Musketawa trails, Millennium Park, numerous upscale golf courses, and the local sports franchises, the West Michigan Whitecaps, Grand Rapids Griffins and Grand Rapids Rampage.

We can’t forget the expansion, growth and renovation of our civic and cultural attractions such as John Ball Zoo, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Public Museum, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and Gerald R. Ford Museum, the Grand Rapids Public Library, Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Ballet Company, Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Hall of Justice, Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place, Rosa Parks Circle, The Rapid Central Station and Gerald Ford International Airport.

Reflecting on the past can also be quite sobering as many of the businesses thriving in 1983 are no longer around. Mergers, acquisitions, economic factors, family challenges and funding issues were all factors in determining whether they succeeded or failed. Of course, these same conditions exist today.

A simple illustration of how this works? In 1980, seven city magazines existed in Grand Rapids. Now there is only one: sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine.

We have seen the disappearance of local icons such as Old Kent and Union banks, Rapistan, Keeler Brass, Kelvinator, Steketee’s, Roger’s, Wurzburg’s, Widdicomb, Baker, Eberhard’s, the Peninsular Club, dozens of tool and die companies, several General Motors plants and more.

And what about the next 25 years — what can we reasonably expect?

Hold on to your iPhone, for the next 25 promise to have even greater impact than the previous 25! A critical component is finding replacements for those leaders who brought us to this stage of development. Our local history tells us they will come mainly from within. The next generation of leaders — the late boomers and generations X, Y and Z — are already among us, emerging and gaining confidence. The Business Journal will continue to identify these leaders and bring you the news about them.

The world is changing rapidly, shrinking before our eyes. New leaders are emerging, and new interconnectivity channels between cultures and countries are growing at astonishing rates. Some leaders are resisting these forces, but those strategies can only be short term.

And just as the forces pushing these changes cannot easily be altered, presenting significant economic and public policy challenges, entrepreneurs will continue to see opportunities. Change will occur whether we want it to or not and at a blazing speed. One illustration: A few months ago, who knew the names Barack Obama or Sarah Palin? Now we call them by their first names; they are already part of our “history” and one or both will clearly affect our future.

Grand Rapids remains an economic shining beacon to others in this state, a “can-do” city. We continue to expand and grow leaders willing to invest in this community despite Michigan’s economic setbacks and political inertia.

Grand Rapids has often been elevated to the global stage, for instance during the memorable funeral proceedings for our beloved native son, President Gerald R. Ford. The world “discovered again” what we have always known: Grand Rapids is, and always has been, a very special place. Among the many “surprises” the world has discovered about Grand Rapids is that we lead the nation, and perhaps the world, in a number of categories, including the number of LEED-certified buildings. So, despite the fact that our historical reputation is that of a conservative community, this cultural phenomenon of conservation and innovation continues to grow and expand. Conservative, yes — and conservation, yes!

We recently forged a media partnership with our Detroit peer, Crain’s Detroit Business. The project is called One Michigan: Bridging 96, and its goal is to highlight critical issues and developments that will help propel Michigan forward to resume its rightful place as a leader in the U.S. economy. The first report will be released Sept. 19 as part of the West Michigan Regional Policy Conference sponsored by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

In next week’s issue, we will unveil a new Business Journal “look” — our effort to create a state-of-the-art business publication. We hope you will like it. It is innovative and different, but it will continue the tradition and our mission to the business community. It is Phase 2 of our 25th anniversary celebration: First we relive 25 years of business history in this issue; then we look ahead at the next 25 with a totally revised look.

Thank you, subscribers and readers! Thank you, advertisers! Thank you, vendors! Thank you, sources and data providers! Thank you, staff! And, thank you, Grand Rapids — the greatest city in Michigan, where dreams and ideas still come true.


John Zwarensteyn
Publisher

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