As the world churns World Trade Week begins

May 2, 2011
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There is never a lack of hot topics at the West Michigan World Trade Association at GVSU — assuring an interesting agenda during its World Trade Week, which starts today and runs through Thursday.

This year, some of the big issues are the price of oil, the dropping value of the dollar, rising costs of commodities, the U.S. economy, the aftermath of the natural disasters in Japan …

“Toyota saying they may not be number one this year — things like that get our attention,” said Jim Ward of Supply Chain Solutions, who is president of the board at the WMWTA. And this still is, after all, the Automotive State.

Of course, perhaps the biggest focus of WMWTA is how West Michigan companies are doing in overseas competition. “And we’re doing very well. We see a lot of shining stars that are going across many world markets,” said Ward, mentioning SoundOff Signal in Hudsonville as one example.

A 30-year-old, employee-owned company that manufactures safety lights and other equipment for emergency vehicles and school buses, SoundOff began its first alliance with overseas partners in 1996, and by 1999, it had deals going in several countries, including in Asia and Europe.

“But there’s a lot like them” in West Michigan, added Ward.

The price of oil in the U.S. is directly related to the weakening of the dollar on the world stage, but that weak dollar also means the prices for U.S.-made goods are more competitive on that stage.

“We’re able to export more of our goods and services to the world market, because we are a value,” said Ward.

He said he sees companies around here that are “geared to go now and jump on it.”

Unemployment is a big problem in the U.S., but part of that is due to productivity gains made in the U.S. since 2009 — and productivity is still going up, said Ward. The improvement in productivity also may be part of what’s driving another trend: American companies that had been sourcing from Asia or South America are bringing some of that work back to the U.S., Ward noted.

The keynote speaker today at The Economic Club of Grand Rapids luncheon is Paraq Khanna, who will talk about “How to Run the World: Connective Leadership for a Turbulent Age.” On Tuesday the WMWTA presents “Trade Policy and Regulatory Update: Impact on U.S. Companies and Their Global Competitiveness,” at Watermark Country Club at 5:30 p.m.

The World Trade Week Business Conference runs 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at GVSU’s Eberhard Center downtown. Michael Finney, president/CEO of the MEDC, will make opening remarks, followed by John Mooney of Haworth, who will talk on “Growing Your Export Sales to Hot Markets.”  For details on other events that day, including discussions on export financing and doing business in Brazil, China, Qatar and the UAE, see www.wmwta.org

Monopoly square for Colliers?

Could a Monopoly square be in the future for Colliers International of West Michigan, perhaps somewhere in the neighborhood of Boardwalk and Park Place? A few weeks ago, the local commercial real estate firm picked up Bridgewater Place for its brokerage portfolio, and last week Colliers reported it also landed Campau Square Plaza, a 12-story Class A office address that is 65 percent filled.

“This is a well-built, well-run, smart building that is located in the heart of downtown,” said Anne Ficeli, who directs Colliers property-management division. “It achieved LEED gold certification for existing buildings in 2010 and has been Energy Star rated. It is very efficient and a great place to do business.”

SMG manages McCormick

Another candidate for a Monopoly square, or maybe a whole block, is SMG. The management firm that oversees daily operations at Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place for the Convention and Arena Authority was chosen to manage Chicago’s McCormick Place Complex, which has 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space and more restrooms than anyone would care to count.

Thankfully, the area SMG Regional Manager Rich MacKeigan manages doesn’t extend to the Windy City, so he is staying here. (Although, if it did, he might be able to score some White Sox tickets.) SMG, which is based in Philadelphia, announced that David Causton, well recognized in the industry, was reappointed as the building’s GM. SMG manages over 220 public venues.

Dog-eat-dog pricing

The Grand Rapids Griffins have a marketing challenge facing their $1 dog $1 beer night. At a recent Saturday matinee, the West Michigan Whitecaps set a new standard by offering dogs for 10 cents — one thin Roosevelt dime — with free mustard, ketchup, relish and onions.

Next up for the Caps is their Mother’s Day Brunch, which cost more than a dime because it offers a selection of entrees and desserts. Oh yeah, they’ll play baseball, too.

National board adds local talent

Speaking of sports, the West Michigan Sports Commission was named by the National Association of Sports Commissions as having the most outstanding website for its budget size. You can take a peek by going to westmisports.com.

On top of that, WMSC Executive Director Mike Guswiler was named to the NASC board of directors for the 2011-12 year. “We were very happy to have been selected to represent the future of the youth and amateur sports tourism industry as a member of this national board,” said Guswiler. We’re happy, too, Mike. Way to go.

TEDX-ers left holding the bag

The TEDxGrandRapids conference May 12 will leave some participants with souvenirs that clearly demonstrate how innovative Grand Rapids can be.

Green Giftz, a local company that salvages scrap fabric from the office furniture industry, will bestow samples of its products on the TEDx innovators arriving from across the country to give short presentations on their ideas and creative accomplishments.

Green Giftz is a division of Promotional Impact, a company headed by Karen Scarpino. She started Green Giftz about three years ago to produce tote bags and other similar products from scrap fabric, hiring local people to sew the bags.

Speakers at TEDx will each receive a messenger-style bag made from tradeshow banners. Mini-bags for a variety of uses also will be given to some attendees, according to Scarpino.

Scarpino has connections with Haworth, which is one of the sponsors of TEDxGrandRapids, and that’s what led to the Green Giftz presence at the show-like conference taking place in the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.

Office furniture companies use “fabulous” textiles, leathers and vinyl fabrics, said Scarpino, and when rolls of those materials near the end, there often isn’t enough left to justify keeping it. Since the fabrics are treated to resist stains and wear and tear, they would not degrade readily in a landfill, she said.

It’s not waste to Scarpino: “We view it as a resource that has a second-generation life,” she said, due to the combination of local companies that care enough about the environment to not dump it in a landfill and instead “seek out innovators like me,” said Scarpino.

Since TEDx is all about innovation that makes the world a better place, Green Giftz is “a story they would want to tell,” she added.

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