Merger creates Forest Hills Business Association

April 23, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The Cascade Business Association and the East Paris Business Association have joined forces to form the new Forest Hills Business Association.

Laura McDowell, who has served in the past as president of the CBA, will be the new association’s first president. The CBA was founded in 1956 and was the oldest neighborhood small business association in Kent County, according to McDowell. The East Paris association was founded in 2007.

“The merger of the associations brings together businesses located in the dynamic Cascade/Forest Hills/East Paris corridor, providing more opportunities for members of each association,” said McDowell. “The missions of the two associations were related, and we often collaborated to offer joint meetings, membership events and networking opportunities. The merging of the two organizations is a logical step that results in a stronger organization that better serves the area.”

McDowell is the branch manager of the Independent Bank branch at Cascade Road and 28th Street.

John Knoppers, who is with United Bank of Michigan and was formerly president of the EPBA, said the East Paris association was organized “with a goal of making the East Paris/Cascade corridor a destination, not simply a thoroughfare. By merging with the CBA, we can continue and reinforce that effort on a larger scale.”

Both associations approved the merger at their March meetings.

Owners and representatives of businesses in the area join the business associations “primarily for networking and educational meetings,” said McDowell.

McDowell said that, in her opinion, small suburban businesses probably had a harder go of it in the recession because of their difficulty in competing on price with big box stores. Their focus has had to be on service and encouraging people to shop locally — “trying to make more of a personal connection.”

McDowell said she had been a member of the CBA since around 2007, and during that time, it brought in speakers such as Fred Keller of Cascade Engineering, Rick DeVos of ArtPrize, and David Van Andel of the Van Andel Institute. Cascade Township was particularly supportive of the CBA, she said, with connections that helped them land well-known individuals as speakers.

The merger creates a much larger organization, representing from 60 to 75 businesses, she said, which should make it easier to recruit speakers. Upcoming speakers include Bing Goei of Eastern Floral in May, and in J.K. Cymancyk in September. He is executive vice president of merchandising at Meijer.

One of the factors leading to a merger was “a lot of duplication with both of the groups,” said McDowell — including duplication of members. The territories of the two groups abutted each other and practically overlapped in some cases.

McDowell said there had been some discussion about keeping the name Cascade Business Association for the merged groups “because the CBA had been around for so long, and the CBA was pretty well rooted in Cascade.”

The first meeting will be 7:30 a.m., Thursday, May 12, where Goei — the 2011 Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Diversity Visionary Award recipient — will speak about his path to becoming a successful local business leader. The meeting will be held at the Centennial Country Club restaurant, 3361 Charlevoix Drive SE.

The FHBA is sponsoring special morning events this spring including electronics recycling April 16 at Integrated Architecture on Lake Drive, and document-shredding April 30 at the Family Fare Plaza near Cascade and 28th Street. Users of the shred service are asked to consider making a $5 contribution to the American Cancer Society.

The mission of the association is to promote the health and viability of the Forest Hills business community, according to McDowell.

“We will accomplish this through education, networking, communication, promotion, awareness, involvement in civic matters and support of community activities,” she said.

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