Street Talk

LaughFests contributions will make you smile

September 4, 2012
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Face it, Gilda’s LaughFest is a good time for a good cause. While a bit of skepticism greeted the inaugural 10-day event that takes place throughout Grand Rapids, Lowell and Holland (Bill Cosby is coming here? Is this a joke?), two years’ worth of time, effort and ingenuity has paid off.

Approximately $2 million worth of economic impact for the region is nothing to sneeze — or laugh — at. Neither is another half-million dollars in the fight against cancer. In 2012, the festival proceeds were approximately $211,000, bringing the two-year income stream from LaughFest and the accompanying signature dinner events to a grand total of $541,000, according to Leann Arkema, president and CEO of LaughFest and Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

All dollars raised support the cancer, grief and emotional health programs offered free through Gilda’s Club.

Now, the business community is flexing its collective muscle and getting behind the project in bigger numbers. (Grand Rapids is always such a show-me-first town.)

“The minute we finished our second year, the community and sponsors were asking for dates for next year,” Arkema said. “We had tremendous support for the festival this year, great turnout, great support from sponsors and the community. And it showed in the numbers. The festival exceeded its goals, and the planning is well on its way for a third year of laughter.”

The 2013 festival will take place March 7-17, and details of the events, schedule and talent lineup will be released later this fall.

“We are thrilled with the results of this year’s financial outcome,” said Arkema. “Ticket sales revenues were up 25 percent. We are ahead of where we thought we might be in only our second year.”

The West Michigan community should be thrilled, too. Studies during and after the festival conducted by Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business indicated the laughs produced more than just a physically healthy atmosphere.

“Working with teams of students, we found that 40 percent of the surveyed respondents indicated they came to Grand Rapids primarily for LaughFest,” said Paul Isely, economics chair at GVSU, who along with the marketing department’s Jennifer Pope headed up the study.

“And, once they were here, many spent money on meals, lodging and more. When we apply the survey results to the total number of visitors, we have an estimated $2 million in direct and indirect spending in Grand Rapids related to LaughFest,” Isely added.

“In addition to the economic impact of LaughFest, we were equally excited to find 85 percent of those surveyed were aware that LaughFest was developed, in part, to highlight the importance of the role of laughter in emotional health,” said Wendy Wigger, vice president of community relations for Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. “One of our festival objectives is to increase the awareness and dialogue about the important role emotional health plays in our lives.”

Nearly 56,300 people attended the second year of LaughFest, which included 323 events, of which 217 were free and 106 were ticketed. More than 40,500 tickets were sold, and visitors came from 25 states and Canada.

Editor’s note

When our very own Carole Valade was announced as the recipient of this year’s ATHENA Award, we were pleased and more than just a little bit proud. After all, most print journalists are behind-the-scenes people who shun the spotlight. But Carole is most deserving of the honor, based on the 25 years of effort she has put in toward bettering the West Michigan community and the women who live and work here.

We in the newsroom couldn’t help but smile, however, when the official luncheon invitation arrived. It listed the day and date of the celebration marking Carole’s crowning achievement as Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Really? You didn’t think an editor would notice that? For the record, you can join us in honoring Carole on Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 11:30-1:30 at the JW Marriott.

Meijer triples help

Meijer is tripling its annual support of its Simply Give program, which helps almost 200 food pantries in the Midwest communities that are home to the 199 Meijer stores.

Christina Fecher in Meijer community relations said Simply Give started in late 2008. There are three Simply Give campaigns every year, each lasting 10 weeks. She said a customer who wants to participate agrees to buy a $10 Meijer gift card to be given to the local food pantry.

“Since that started, Meijer has donated more than $3 million, which equates to about 18 million meals, to our partnering food pantries,” said Fecher.

This year is different, however. Meijer normally “seeds” each of the three annual campaigns with $100,000, used to match each $10 gift card donated to the local food pantry.

“This year they have decided to increase (the matching fund) to $1 million for the year,” said Fecher.

For this week, from Sept. 2-8, Meijer is doubling its matching amount to get the food pantries excited and to urge community supporters to buy the Simply Give gift cards.

Meijer also has what it calls a “food rescue” program, in which participating food banks and pantries pick up fresh meat, cheese and select deli and bakery items from their local Meijer stores two to three days each week. In 2011, Meijer donated almost 700,000 pounds of food to local food banks, enough for 527,700 meals, according to the company, and this September, it is adding eight more food banks to the program.

Meijer donates more than 6 percent of its net profits to charity every year.

Meijer Co-Chairman Hank Meijer said hunger is a problem that continues to grow in every community.

“This contribution shows our commitment to hunger relief in the Midwest and applauds the continued generosity our customers and team members have shown their neighbors,” he said.

Sneak a peek

GE Aviation in Kentwood has just been awarded a new contract worth nearly $9 million in support of surveillance systems, including the U.S. Marine Corps Ground-Based Operation Surveillance System (G-BOSS).

Suffice it to say, G-BOSS is equipment the troops are using overseas to keep an eye on the bad guys in the neighborhood, and even draw a bead on them.

The engineering and manufacturing work at GE will see deliveries starting this year and ending in the third quarter of 2017.

“GE has provided inertial reference systems to our customers for more than half a century,” said George Kiefer, vice president and general manager of avionics with GE Aviation. “Tactical inertial navigation is an area of expertise for our team, and we’re proud to be part of this program.”

The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., is the customer.

Jennifer Villarreal, a spokesperson for GE Aviation, said the job won’t require any new hiring. GE Aviation has about 1,400 employees locally who are already working on other contracts related to the U.S. Air Force KC-46A Tanker, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Northrop Grumman X-47B, the COMAC C919, the Gulfstream G650 and the Boeing 737.

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