Street Talk

Street Talk: Run like the wind

March gladness.

February 27, 2015
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Today’s front-page story shows Michigan is in the bottom 10 — again — when it comes to the well-being of its residents.

Much of that has to do with income and education, but a significant portion can be attributed to health, too.

“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son,” advises Dean Wormer in the comedy classic “Animal House.”

Except it’s no longer a laughing matter. This is the third year in the past decade Michigan has finished near the bottom.

What to do? The Delta House crazies might advocate for a “road trip,” but a road race might be the better solution.

With the recent changes in health care policy and rising health care costs in the workplace, employers are getting creative. Local employers are endorsing employee participation in races like the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K to build team morale, boost fitness and help raise more than $50,000 for area charities that benefit programs for women and girls.

“The Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K is a natural fit for our wellness program,” said Robert Hughes, president of Advantage Benefits Group. “We love the uniqueness of the event, and as a runner I love the mission that encourages women of all fitness abilities to run. And when you can combine corporate wellness with a charity race … you’ve got a double win.”

Hughes is among a growing number of executives who are looking for ways to build employee morale while also emphasizing workforce fitness.

“Health care costs continue to escalate for employers and employees. Employers are focusing more on ways to encourage healthy behaviors,” he said. “There is a trend of employers offering creative incentives and programs to encourage healthy behaviors such as supporting their employees to participate in events like the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K.”

To employers considering a similar wellness initiative, Hughes recommends: make it easy, make it fun, be supportive and suggest ideas for all abilities.

Advantage Benefits Group not only covers racer registrations but also incentivizes participation with gift cards. Each employee also receives a wearable fitness device paid for by the company to track everyone’s activities.

Sharon Loughridge, president and CEO of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s, said employee team participation is beneficial on several levels.

In addition to being an event charity partner, D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s sponsored more than 40 runners from its staff last year to participate in the race and expects a similar turnout this year.

“We had staff involved from across all program areas and campuses from the entire agency: foster care social workers, medical team, residential therapists, community-based social workers. They were proud of their efforts and also proud of D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s sponsoring them.”

Employees are on board, too.

“I enjoyed it being an all-female event. It brought a new and interesting dynamic to the race,” said Jessica Bigelow, an account manager at Advantage, who trained for the half-marathon. “My colleagues did wait at the finish line for me to finish and were wonderful supporters.”

Hello, again

An organization unique to West Michigan marked five years last week.

Hello West Michigan, which touts itself as the only employer-driven talent attraction and retention organization in the country, officially launched in 2010 under the name Quaeris (Latin, and probably a bit obtuse for most people).

“I suggested we would be much stronger if we put together an entity called ‘West Michigan’ and gave candidates a way to look at the region as a whole, instead of Holland versus Grand Rapids versus Muskegon,” said Ann Harten, vice president of global human resources at Haworth and co-founder and chair of Hello West Michigan.

The organization’s reach extends beyond its 57-member businesses. The local nonprofit works with many area organizations, including economic developers, chambers of commerce, universities and other nonprofits to improve talent systems in the region.

“Our vision is to make West Michigan a nationally recognized destination for top talent. We want the region to be top of mind when professionals are thinking about relocating to a new place,” said Cindy Brown, executive director.

Hello West Michigan used last week’s annual meeting as a show-and-tell of its accomplishments. One success story involves the “résumé packs” distributed to more than 450 local HR professionals weekly.

Brown said since starting the program, Hello West Michigan has distributed more than 600 résumés and 236 of those people have been hired, resulting in a success rate of just less than 40 percent.

By design

West Michigan Design Week is officially off the drawing board.

“Last year was a test run and we couldn’t have been happier with how well it was received,” said Sara Klele, AIGA West Michigan Design Week Chair.

“I believe it shows how important design is to the community. This time around, we have had the benefit of planning for nearly a year and have organized some really special events. We’re especially proud of the caliber of speakers we are bringing to West Michigan.”

The April 6-11 event has lined up a host of speakers prominent in the design field, and also will offer workshops and studio tours.

Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics group at the MIT Media Lab and director of the Herr Institute for Human Rehabilitation, will be the keynote speaker. Herr lost his lower legs in a mountaineering accident and has devoted his life’s work to assisting the elderly and the disabled through innovative research and design.

“We have been watching Hugh’s work for some time, and are pleased we were able to sponsor him as West Michigan Design Week’s keynote speaker,” said Kenneth Krayer Jr., interim executive director. “He has a broad definition of design that aligns well with Design West Michigan’s goals.”

Additional speakers include famous industrial designer Tucker Viemeister; Liz Sanders, founder of MakeTools; Cheryl Durst, executive vice president and CEO of the International Interior Design Association; and Claudia de Almeida, senior lecturer in typography at California College of the Arts.

Road work

While state officials haggled last week over the exact wording to appear on the May 5 ballot regarding funds to repair Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Baker wasted little time in getting his point across.

“Michigan needs to fix its roads. We cannot afford the cost of continued inaction,” said Baker. “Safe roads are a critical asset to continued economic growth, and we will work to educate our membership on Proposal 1.”

Guess that pretty much covers it, regardless of the final language.

Business and pleasure

Why doesn’t everybody do this?

IT Resource Inc. is hosting its annual March Madness event Thursday, March 19, and the topic is “IT Security & Risk in the Business Place.”

The event takes place at Grand Woods Lounge, 77 Grandville Ave. SW — “officially” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — but attendees are invited to stay through the afternoon for beverages and to watch the NCAA basketball tournament on the big screen.

IT Resource personnel have promised to stay (and be your alibi). We’re betting Carrie Borchers had something to do with this!

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