Heartfelt process leads to pick of homegrown candidate

August 3, 2009
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Although Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell is happy that Greg Sundstrom won the hearts and minds of a majority of the commission for the city manager’s job last week, he voted for Eric DeLong. “My top choice is DeLong and I recognize that we have two strong individuals here,” he said just prior to the vote.

Why DeLong? Familiarity may be part of his reasoning. DeLong served as interim city manager since January and his office is next door to the mayor’s, and they share a bathroom. “When you share a bathroom with someone you get to know them a little better,” said a laughing Heartwell.

Even though Benjamin Hughes, the former city administrator of Racine, Wisc., didn’t win the minds of commissioners for the city’s top executive post last week, he won most of their hearts and left here leaving a very favorable impression.

First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski said he had a drink with Hughes and his fiancée after the interview and said he was a charming gentleman with a lot of character. Gutowski added that Hughes should be considered if the city ever needs an assistant manager. First Ward Commissioner James Jendrasiak said Hughes was warm and personable, has lots of potential and energy, and liked the guy. “Would I hire this guy as an assistant in Grand Rapids? You bet.”

Second Ward Commissioner David LaGrand said Hughes was a big surprise and was impressed with how strongly he felt that a city should make a strong social commitment to its poorer residents. Second Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss saw Hughes as genuine, thoughtful and sincere. “I was slow to warm with him, but by the end I liked him,” she said.

The mayor thought Hughes has a big future ahead of him in the public-sector managerial arena. So remember that name, Benjamin Hughes, for future reference.

Gutowski said he also had lunch with Norton Bonaparte, Jr., the city manager of Topeka, Kansas, and another finalist for the job. He also said he spoke via telephone with Topeka’s deputy mayor and got rave reviews about Bonaparte, who is the city’s first manager since Topeka switched to a council type of government. Gutowski, who owns the Swift Printing Co., said he was willing to fly to Topeka on his “own dime” to learn more because Bonaparte “talked around the questions” during his interview. That could have been an expensive trip because Allegiant Air doesn’t fly to Topeka. Does any airline?

Young blood at work

The Cattle Baron’s Ball, an American Cancer Society fund-raiser slated for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Steelcase Town Hall at 1111 44th St. SE, is enlisting a group of young professionals to support this year’s event.  The 35 members of the Young Leaders Council, who are ages 25 to 40, had raised at least $30,000 entering last week. Since its inception in 2003, the event has roped in more than $1.8 million for cancer research, education and patient services.

The council is a way to make sure that Millennials and GenX-ers play a part in local philanthropy alongside Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation.

“There definitely is a trend toward young professionals becoming more actively involved in the philanthropic community,” said Huntington Bank’s Mandee Rick, one of the chairs of the Young Leaders Council.

Another council chair, Katy Atchison of soon-to-be Spectrum Health subsidiary Michigan Medical PC, has raised more than $5,000, including $1,600 in “Change Challenge” which has a pizza party as a carrot.

Wonder if all those cattle have Blackberries and I-Phones? According to business guru and author Gary Hammel, they do.  One of his most “surprising” stories of the 1990s was his witness of how cell phones were being used on western ranches (where great distances have always been a communication issue).  At least one cattle rancher was attaching the “new” cell phones of the time to the cattle … and calling them home to the barns.


Come sail away

It was “official” last week, the DeVos family owned Windquest sailboat took the prize in the annual Chicago-Mackinac race, hosted by the Chicago Yacht Club. The 101st race was one of the longest on record, averaging 80 hours of sail time for the 337 entrants to reach the finish.  Windquest, owned by brothers Dick and Doug DeVos at Lake Macatawa in Holland, won the Royono Trophy - First Racing Monohull to Finish, with an elapsed time of 47:57:40.  The Windquest was spotted in a more isolated channel from the Chicago Yacht Club prior to the race by a group of area residents, in town to help the world-winded and returned East Grand Rapids resident Michael Lyman open The Wit, a newly developed property in the DoubleTree group, at the corner of State and Lake, Chicago’s newest “old” revitalization effort by local developers. Lyman, director of sales and marketing, also opened the JW Marriott for the DeVos and Marriott families in Grand Rapids.

Revelers making the road trip for the grand opening VIP party (besides Santana and its lead singer) included Paula Fogarty and David Weston, Think Design. The Windy City’s new jewel includes rooftop dining and the Hangover bar, a glass enclosed bar/lounge area 27 stories above the street, which is drawing lines of more than 200“really well-dressed people for the chance to imbibe in the very posh, not-for-the-faint-of-heart specialty restaurant.

Musical chairs on the Titanic

Muskegon County commissioner and successful entrepreneur Bob Scolnik expressed some reservations about economic development last week, during the Community Conversation held in Muskegon by Michigan's Defining Moment.

Scolnik said that to him, too often economic development "seems to mean stealing a business from somewhere else," rather than creating new jobs, "and you're giving away all the taxes, besides."

Later, Scolnik told the Business Journal that when he was on the Norton Shores city council, he watched "municipalities fighting over companies."

"Everybody feels good" when a business is lured into town, but "it didn’t really create any new jobs — it just moved them from somewhere else."

"Maybe there needs to be some incentive for people who are starting something new — not just shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic," said Scolnik.

"What we need are people who stick their necks out and start businesses," he said, even if it begins with just one employee.

He did just that, in 1971. Scolnik had just gotten married, and they decided to invest in a franchise. He took the $5,500 in cash he and his wife had received in wedding presents, put $5,000 of it into inventory and $500 down on a truck and went to work. Seven years later he sold that successful business and then bought another that he grew to more than 100 employees by the time he sold it 21 years later and retired.

"I think the key to Michigan's long term success is entrepreneurism," he said — but quickly conceded he knows that "it's not for everybody. I know that most people can't stand it — they don’t like the insecurity."

"But if we can just create a few successes, that's all it takes. It doesn't take a million."

On the topic of incentives, what does Scolnik think about Michigan's incentives to lure movie productions here?

"Horrible! Absolutely stupid! It is the dumbest thing," he said.

"There needs to be some really careful way of checking their expenses" that are supposedly spent in Michigan, he said. "And I think forty percent (in refundable tax credits) was too generous. I think there needed to be a cap."

Green Mountain on the horizon

A new company called Green Mountain Recycling Inc. will begin operations in West Michigan next summer, according to an announcement by its founder, Jim Watrous.

Watrous said he plans on having a dozen people at work a year from now, processing plastic scrap from industrial plants for re-use by plastic molding companies. He said Green Mountain may be employing up to 75 people within five years.

In 2003, Watrous founded Professional Business Services Inc. (ProBusS), a skilled trades staffing firm. He had many years of experience in manufacturing management at Steelcase.

Naturally, ProBusS will do the installation and maintenance of Green Mountain's plant equipment. As to where that will be — that's still up in the air.

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