Saving, giving area deserves far better

October 24, 2008
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The West Michigan region ranks at the top of the list as an area of savers (as in people and businesses that save some portion of their earnings). It is a record held more years than anyone can remember.

The West Michigan region ranks second in the nation for its beneficence to community nonprofits. So beneficent, it is said the Internal Revenue Service had to upwardly adjust its automatic audit of returns based on philanthropic giving amounts. The word used by Rich DeVos is tithing.

The Grand Rapids area is said to be a hotbed of entrepreneurs, a city of “compassionate capitalism,” and some proof of both is in the names of buildings constructed, and most especially those under construction.

The city’s renaissance was first fired in the late 1960s by Old Kent Bank President Dick Gillette. He was joined by Union Bank President David Frey, and their legacy continues in the group of investors and business owners who created Grand Action.

Those encouraged to contribute and participate have said they were glad to be part of a community effort led by Old Kent; it was a way of giving back … to the bank. Not just any bank, but an institution that long-time residents said worked with them, and helped them through the rough times of the Depression and later economic ripples. Many of them have reported they would have been part of the malaise had it not been for hometown bankers who knew their records and knew they would be repaid. It was a local bank. That is how Old Kent kept its customers and grew to be the largest locally headquartered bank in West Michigan. Even after its sale to Fifth Third Bank, most customers remained loyal. Former FDIC Chairman William Seidman at the time said the sale of Old Kent was the worst economic news in Grand Rapids history.

The debacle of a world-wide economic crisis has become more brutal here by the scared tactics used by the out-state banking institutions, which like the Big Three in Detroit, are scurrying to “fix” bad management decisions of their boards’ making — at the expense of their customers. A community holding national rank as savers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists is given no respect or rank in this debacle, as is evident in the number of long-time local building and construction-related businesses whose revenue lines have been taken, sometimes without notice, forcing their closure. It is fair to assume such a community would be squeezed for every last dime, especially while only pennies can be counted in other parts of the country.

Consider the comments from Bank of Holland President and CEO Richard Lievense, who is celebrating — yes, celebrating — the 10th anniversary of his opening the local bank. “We’re going to have a much more diversified business segment in West Michigan, and you’re already seeing it in Grand Rapids with the build-up of the medical corridor, the continuing development in the service industry, and with some high-tech industries that have been attracted to this region.” Lievense, former head of Old Kent’s large business unit, also noted that he opened the bank based on this region’s entrepreneurial record and “felt it was an opportunity to put together a hometown bank staffed with people who really knew the community and the business people.”

This business community deserves such respect and rank.

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