Asian gathering puts focus on that community's success

March 15, 2010
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“It feels like an Amway meeting, for some reason,” quipped Doug DeVos at the podium last Thursday night.

That got a good laugh as he spoke to a crowd of 300 at the Asian Gala 2010.

DeVos explained that all of the Asian faces in the crowd reminded him of the fact that the Amway Corp. business is booming in China.

The first annual Asian Gala was put on by the Asian Professionals Organization and the Asian Health Outreach Foundation in the Goei Center on Butterworth Street on Grand Rapids’ southwest side. The 80,000-square-foot Goei Center, which opened in November, had been an old, empty Kindel Furniture factory until Bing Goei, owner and CEO of Eastern Floral, pumped $2.5 million into renovating it. Now it serves a variety of uses: an incubator for small business that is already home to several new companies; a venue for social and business receptions and corporate events; and Eastern Floral corporate offices.

About 20 corporations and many distinguished community members from West Michigan were on hand for the event, which featured Asian art, music and food. A number of individuals were honored, including Emily Ly, daughter of Liem and Cindy Ly, an APO scholarship recipient. She is a student in the pre-med program at Notre Dame.

George Aquino, a native of the Philippines who has lived in Grand Rapids for years and is now general manager of the JW Marriott downtown, was master of ceremonies and delivered some good quips of his own.

DeVos spoke about Amway’s first business trips to China, where two-thirds of its business is concentrated today. He said the “klunky Dutch guys wandering around” there actually got a very warm welcome. The secret to doing business in a foreign country is “get local and really love it,” he said. But they had very good help, including an expert on marketing in China, Eva Chang.

“China is our biggest market and we do whatever Eva tells us,” he said.

The eyes on the prize

Kudos for last year’s ArtPrize phenomenon continue to roll in. Event founder Rick DeVos will be presented with a 2010 Arts Legacy Award “for his vision and commitment to promoting the arts, and the contributions of individual artists, in Grand Rapids.”

The award will be presented by ArtServe Michigan, which uncharacteristically will venture from its east side of the state roots to host the Ignite 2000 event at Grand Valley State University’s Richard M. DeVos Center May 13.

ArtPrize 2010 kicks off today at noon with the beginning of venue registration.

Some unlikely bedfellows

The election shenanigans related to a proposed Meijer Inc. store in Grand Traverse County’s Acme Township have spawned an odd partnership, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported recently.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Education Association and Michigan Teamsters have filed a brief encouraging the state Supreme Court to review when county prosecutors or the state attorney general can pursue criminal campaign finance violations. The trio, three of the largest political spenders in Michigan, argued that a criminal investigation should occur only if the Secretary of State is unable to negotiate a conciliation agreement with the violator, the newspaper reported.

Meijer paid a $190,000 fine for meddling in the township elections, but Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider is awaiting direction from the Supreme Court regarding a possible criminal investigation.

Banking on a board

Nothing even remotely criminal here, just that the new Kent County Land Bank Authority has its first board of directors. County commissioners made the appointments late last week, and they are: County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish, County Commissioner Stan Ponstein, GR City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, Kentwood City Commissioner Sharon Brinks and Plainfield Township Supervisor George Meek.

Eight others applied, including two county commissioners. But the board’s make-up only had room for one county commission member.

The directors were chosen by a subcommittee comprised of County Commissioners Ted Vonk, Tom Antor and Pete Hickey.

Not paying to play

The city of Grand Rapids joined Kent County and the Grand Valley Metro Council last week by condemning the unfunded mandates state government has issued, which have turned out be a violation of the Michigan Constitution ever since the Headlee Amendment was enacted in 1978.

“It would be a huge number, if we counted it,” said Mayor George Heartwell of all the mandates the city has been handed since then. “It’s curious that we’ve come this far down the road and there haven’t been any legal challenges.”

The mayor made a good point, but maybe local governments haven’t put up a challenge because they haven’t had enough money left for attorneys after funding the unfunded mandates.

Heartwell made another good point when he said that not all unfunded mandates are bad ones. He said one from the Federal government in the early 1990s wasn’t so awful as it required the city to separate its combined sewer system. The city spent about $300 million to do that, and he said 94 percent of those dollars came from city coffers. Now the city has a separate water and sewer system, and maybe one of the best in the Midwest.

“It’s not to say that these aren’t important,” said Heartwell of some mandates. “But local units have to have the money.”

Starring in a new role

Former longtime city commissioner and now State Rep. Roy Schmidt has been named majority vice chair of the Banking Committee. “Ensuring that consumers are protected at every level will be a high priority for me, and creating open dialogue with the banks will be a major tool in providing everyday folks with the kind of assurances they need to invest and save their money,” said the Grand Rapids Democrat.

City Commissioner Walt Gutowski, who replaced Schmidt on the commission, said that the current state representative was helpful in getting state tax credits awarded to the renovation of the old Federal Building at 148 Ionia Ave. NW. “‘Everybody Loves Roy’ is true,” said Gutowski, slightly changing the title of the popular sitcom that starred Ray Romano.

Schmidt represents the 76th District and is running for a second term.

Still telling stories

When Steve Heacock, who is running for Congress in Michigan's 3rd Congressional District, announced last week that Rick Treur will be his campaign manager, the news came in a release distributed by Robin Luymes. The Business Journal clan knows Luymes well from his start as a fresh-faced reporter with the BJ.

No amount of adult beverage at the time could keep the pride of Canada from traveling down the path that now has him stumping for political types and other interests as an independent PR pro. We tried.

Tech startup gets drafted

“From our perspective, it’s another successful exit,” Jody Vanderwel, president of Grand Angels, a local angel investment group, told the Business Journal. As was noted here last week, the exit was from an online software company, MockDraftCentral.com. MockDraftCentral.com facilitates mock drafts for fantasy sports and was recently purchased by Roto Sports Inc., an online fantasy sports company providing news and services.

Vanderwel said that Grand Angels held MockDraftCentral.com for four years and is open to more online software companies as they have characteristics that are appealing to the investors, such as the ability for the idea to be protected and its growth scale.

“That tends to be a space with the characteristics of a good angel deal,” she said. “They can protect their idea with intellectual property and they can scale nicely.”

No matter where the group invests, Vanderwel said the most important thing is the entrepreneur behind the company. “The No. 1 thing we look for is the management. You’re investing in the jockey, not the horse,” she said. “Are they a real business and not just an idea, and have they solved a real problem?”

The man in the seat in this case was Jason Pliml, founder and CEO of MockDraftCentral.com. Under Pliml’s leadership, the company won numerous awards and collected more than 130,000 members.

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