Women owned firms honored

March 3, 2009
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Every other year the Grand Rapids Business Journal publishes a salute to the Top Women Owned Businesses. This year’s process produced 24 finalists, four that were singled out in their revenue categories.

The 24 finalists, culled from 193 surveyed nominees, have redoubled their sales efforts, decreased business costs and even reinvested in the dream, and their employees. Some have suffered the setbacks of employee theft and competition. Every one of them continues to measure success as part of long-term strategy. The range of business types has never been greater; the women highlighted this year are female pioneers in IT, construction, shipping and plastics manufacturing, among other categories. The businesses they have founded reach from Cadillac to Three Rivers.

Independent judges for the program were Kim Lavine, Michelle Richards and Carolyn Andrews. The judges awarded points for business innovation, financial health and evidence of leadership in a particular industry.

All 24 finalists were honored today at a luncheon attended by more than 280 people at Noto’s Old World Italian Dining. The event featured keynote speaker Kim Lavine, author of “Mommy Millionaire” and president of Mommy Millionaire Media. The top business in each of four revenue categories were announced at the luncheon.

The businesses selected as the most distinguished in their categories were:

Brooke DeGraaf
Compass II Inc.
$7 million or more

Brooke DeGraaf, president of Compass II Inc. in Grand Rapids, sells heavy-duty, transcontinental transportation to companies that need to ship large volumes of finished products or raw materials. The first part of DeGraaf's job is to market intermodal transportation to companies with something to ship. Intermodal transport is a cost-effective way to ship large volumes a long distance.

After 10 years, the company was handling several million dollars worth of intermodal transportation a year. Things got much rougher in 2008 with the nose dive of the economy and the defection of two key employees, who left to start a company that competes against Compass II.

DeGraaf now manages the business with just one employee and has worked hard to keep most of her customers, despite the recession and the competition.

Joyce E. Elliott
Materials Testing Consultants/Mateco Drilling Co.
$4 million-$6.99 million

Materials Testing is a 40-year-old Grand Rapids firm dealing in construction testing, including geotechnical engineering, environmental issues, structural steel and more. Mateco Drilling was formed six years later as a separate corporation that does soil drilling for Materials Testing and other firms throughout the Midwest.

Joyce Elliott assumed the role of owner and CEO of both companies when her husband, Raymond, died in 1992 of a brain tumor.

Chris F. Willis
Media 1
$1.5 million-$3.99 million

Launched by Chris Willis in 1983, Media 1 in Grand Haven provides customized, virtual classroom and Web- and CD-based corporate training programs for Fortune 1000 companies from all over the world. At 20 employees, Media 1 is considered to be a large firm in its niche.

The staff includes instructional designers, technical writers and multimedia specialists as well as an administrative group.

Willis graduated from Grand Valley State University in 1982 with a degree in arts and media.

Bonnie Knopf
Intrepid Plastics Manufacturing
$0-$1.49 million

Bonnie Knopf is president of Intrepid Plastics Manufacturing in Grand Rapids. She founded the plastics manufacturing company in 2003, after hearing about benefits that a woman-owned business could apply for. And despite a sluggish economy, Intrepid found a niche market that was a perfect fit.

Knopf was inspired to enter the plastics field when her older sister went through the plastics and engineering program at Ferris State University.

Other honorees included:

Lynette Dykhouse — Home Care Service Staffing
Mary Jane Pories — Fishladder Inc.
Karen Scarpino — Promotional Impact and Greengiftz.com
Elaine Meyers — Meyers Cleaning Services Inc.
Gwen O’Brien — Plenty Creative
Diana DeGraaf — DeGraaf'x Inc.
Beverly Wall — Languages International
Floriza Genautis — Management Business Solutions
Denise Kolesar — Kohler Expos Inc.
Julie Lough — Micro Visions Inc.
Peaches McCahill — The McCahill Group
Meg Goebel — Paul Goebel Group
Jodey Barnes  — Cascade Paper Converters LLC
Pamella DeVos  — Pamella Roland
Ginny Seyferth  — Seyferth & Associates
Joyce Lovse — AngelCare Home Health Care Inc.
Rose Harr — Blue Ware Inc.
Jami Miller — J EM Computers Inc.
Linda Blanchard —Thermal-Tec Michigan Inc.
Mary Nienhuis — North Coast Components Inc.

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