Street Talk

Street Talk: You’re never too old, or young, to learn

Wheels deal.

April 25, 2014
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When the students at Alma College gathered for commencement ceremonies earlier this month, they probably had no idea they would be told to “keep on ignoring that conventional wisdom.”

But that’s what happens when you give the pulpit to Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc.

Glazer is a huge proponent of the knowledge-based economy and higher education, and took the opportunity to inform the graduating Scots of what life will be like in the “real” world.

“First and foremost: You made the right decision. I know the new conventional wisdom is that we have too many four-year degree graduates, particularly in the liberal arts. Therefore, the story goes, you are likely to end up in jobs that don’t use your skills and pay too little to pay off student loans. Don’t believe it! It’s not true.”

Part of his proof? That would be the Business Journal’s most recent class of 40 Under Forty.

“It was my great pleasure to serve as a judge for the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 2013 40 Under Forty class. As we were going through write-ups of the nearly 140 nominees, what struck me was how many seemed to be in creative occupations and/or industries. Not consistent with the image of a manufacturing-centered region. Nor consistent with the story that we are told repeatedly: that jobs for college graduates are increasingly concentrated in science, technology, engineering and math occupations.

“Sure seemed like a lot of the nominees worked neither for an employer that made things nor were in science- and math-based occupations. In fact, the nominees at the undergraduate level primarily have liberal arts degrees — the kind of degrees that conventional wisdom increasingly is predicting is a path to underemployment and wages too low to pay off so-called crushing student loans.”

Glazer pointed out the nominees “overwhelmingly” work in the knowledge-based sectors of the economy: health care and social assistance; education; management of companies; professional services; finance and insurance; and information.

“In terms of occupations, the 40 Under Forty represent well the broad diversity of opportunity in a 21st century economy — and the continuing reality that the liberal arts remain a reliable path to success.”

Classy trip

There are talkers, there are listeners, and there are doers. Dan Behm doesn’t say a whole lot, but he listens well and does plenty.

The Open Systems Technologies CEO is paying for all the costs and assisting with coordination for fourth-graders from seven west-side Grand Rapids Public Schools to take field trips to the beach. Hoffmaster State Park would seem an odd destination for one of the area’s pre-eminent tech firms, since computers, screens and the Internet don’t play well with the sand. But that’s not the point.

In a brainstorming meeting with GRPS officials, OST was discussing partnership ideas with GRPS’ John Helmholdt when a comment sparked Behm’s attention. It alluded to the fact that a high percentage of GRPS elementary-age children most likely have never seen Lake Michigan. It was speculated that some students rarely venture beyond the city limits, due in part to transportation and financial constraints.

It was at that moment Behm offered the idea of OST supporting a series of field trips to Lake Michigan that, at the very least, allow the children to see the breathtaking shoreline many Michiganders take for granted.

“Everyone deserves the chance to experience something new and fun,” said Behm. “We hope this Lake Michigan adventure will inspire these children to think big while enjoying the simple beauty of Lake Michigan.”

The importance of the gesture is not lost on GRPS officials.

“Grand Rapids Public Schools welcomes this out-of-the-box thinking such as the field trip idea presented to us by OST,” said Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. “It’s educational for our students and requires minimal investment from our resources. Additionally, it demonstrates to other businesses how they can help strengthen our community by collaborating with its largest school district in enlightening ways such as this.”

Behm said OST’s initiative with GRPS may increase in scope in the future, but for this first round, schools on the west side are targeted. This stems from OST’s existing relationships with nearby schools. He said the $100 million firm also may consider executing similar partnerships with school districts in its other locations (Minneapolis, Ann Arbor and Detroit).

Convergence works

The outstanding entrepreneur in Muskegon is a successful business owner — it just took him a while to get there.

The Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce recently honored Jason Piasecki, partner in the communications firm Revel, with its top award.

Piasecki opened his first business in 1998 when he founded ImageQuest Design, a marketing firm in Metro Detroit. Upon returning to his hometown of Muskegon in 2003, he and partner Andy Maciejewski opened Qonverge, a marketing communications firm that specialized in web and video.

The idea of Qonverge joining forces with Relevant, a branding and print marketing firm owned by Don Kalisz, had been talked about for some time, yet neither was in a hurry to merge, so they proceeded cautiously before signing legal documents in May 2010. In the fall of 2010, they changed the name to Revel and moved into the current offices in downtown Muskegon.

The firm grew sales 20 percent in 2013 and added another three employees, bringing the roster to 18.

Celebrity chef

Chances are he will not be appearing on the Food Network anytime soon, but Mayor George Heartwell and his wife, Susan, know their way around a kitchen.

So it’s really no surprise that Grand Rapids’ fearless leader last week became the latest of more than a dozen elected officials to help prepare and deliver meals to area seniors through Senior Meals on Wheels.

This year Senior Meals on Wheels marks its 30th anniversary in the West Michigan community. The annual March For Meals campaign engages elected officials to focus on meal delivery, a critical service that helps seniors live independently in their homes. More than a dozen West Michigan mayors, representatives, senators and commissioners visited Senior Meals on Wheels over the last six weeks to lend a hand.

Mayor Steven Maas of Grandville was the first volunteer in this year’s campaign, delivering 20 meals throughout his constituency. “Meals on Wheels is a great program that helps people stay in their own homes,” he said. “Nutritious food delivered by caring volunteers provides better health for the seniors and peace of mind for their families.”

President Brewster Hamm said the program prepares and delivers more than 400,000 meals for homebound seniors in Kent County each year, and serves more than 100,000 meals at 13 congregate dining sites throughout the county. The organization also operates a food pantry for seniors with limited funds.

“Volunteers like Mayor Heartwell are incredibly important to our mission,” said Hamm. “We want to spend every penny possible on food, so we rely on more than 30,000 hours of volunteer service each year to help prepare and deliver meals to our clients.”

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