Street Talk

Street Talk: Birthday wishes

Beer cheer!

October 2, 2015
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The Right Place is celebrating its 30th birthday this month. While the playing field may have changed over the last three decades, the one thing that has kept Birgit Klohs at the helm of the organization hasn’t.

“It is a relationship business. That is what makes it fun, because you get to know really great people and you really get to know what a great community this is and how very connected and helpful they are. It is what kept me here for 28 years,” said Klohs.

Nurturing those relationships has helped keep the numerous innovative manufacturing companies here rather than seeing them pack their bags when the next incentive package comes along. The Right Place 2014 Annual Report indicated “every year our business development team visits 300+ area companies to discuss strategic opportunities and concerns,” and of the 22 projects completed in 2014, 17 of them involved local businesses.

Retention — the often overlooked component of economic development — has been the foundation upon which Klohs has structured the organization. Work by The Right Place since 1985 has resulted in more than $4 billion in capital investment to the region and more than 40,000 jobs created or retained.

“If a company with a good reputation in our community decides to go elsewhere because we don’t pay attention to them, then how can I convince a company in Germany or Texas to come here?” she said.

Uphill battle

Calvin College Provost Cheryl Brandsen issued a letter Sept. 25 to students indicating six disciplinary programs in the humanities, languages and arts were being recommended for elimination.

Cue the heartbreak.

“I want to be very clear about two things: None of the programs recommended for elimination are being recommended because of quality concerns, and none of these programs are being eliminated because we think they are unimportant,” indicated Brandsen.“With deep regret, I have recommended that these programs be eliminated.”

The six programs in question include the majors in art history, German, Greek, Latin and theater, and the minor in architecture. The letter also indicated students currently enrolled in the programs will be able to complete their degrees at Calvin.

Brandsen said the task force reviewed the programs and issued its recommendations based on low demand.

The evaluation of the programs was part of Calvin’s prioritization process, which is part of its strategic plan to “put the college on a more sustainable financial footing by the fall of 2017,” Brandsen stated.

Since President Michael Le Roy joined Calvin’s leadership team in 2012, the college has worked to restructure its operations and eliminate inefficiencies, particularly in terms of financial matters.

Initially saddled with roughly $116 million in long-standing debt, Calvin has reduced the number to approximately $89 million.

Divine comedy

Has anyone noticed there’s a lot of improv happening in Grand Rapids?

Bart Sumner has, and he’s part of the reason. Sumner is the director of Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s Rapid Delivery Improv, as well as the founder of Healing Improv, a nonprofit that allows grieving and troubled people to use improv and comedy as a kind of therapeutic experience.

And the man can make you laugh.

“My sense of humor is human,” he said. “It’s based on being a human being, it’s based on self-deprecation and making fun of myself, and the things around me I find absurd.”

Sumner first got into the idea of performance comedy after watching “Saturday Night Live” as a kid. He worked in sketch and improv comedy in New York, but said it’s a hard way to make a living.

“Nobody makes a living at sketch comedy, let’s be honest. Improv was always a means to an end. Sketch comedy was always a means to an end — a means to get on TV or do movies, a means to become famous enough to make money at what I do.

“No one makes money at improv unless they own the school,” he said.

“We have, like, 1,500 pieces of art in town right now that people are looking at, hoping that one or two of them might win an amount of money that will support them for a short time. How many ArtPrize artists make a living as an artist? Artists work for free. If you’re getting into the arts to make money, go do something else.”

“If there’s anything else in the world you can stomach doing other than the performance arts, go and do that,” he said.

“It’s a very difficult road to choose, but if you feel it’s all you can do, get yourself exposed to as much education as you can and do, do, do! Learn to dance. Learn to sing. Get in a class. Get yourself on a stage.

“It’s an art form, and as with any art form, you need to study and learn as much as you can.”

Apartment vacancy

The Grand Rapids community lost a pioneer last week.

Milt Lennox, who founded The Apartment Lounge in 1972 with his partner, Ed Ladner, died last Tuesday night. He was 81.

The Apartment Lounge, 33 Sheldon Ave. NE, is said to be the oldest continuously operating LGBT-owned establishment in the state.

Lennox and Ladner provided a welcoming atmosphere to all — the bar’s slogan is “where friends meet” — and created a space for LGBT people of all ages to feel safe and part of a community.

The pair has been together for 51 years, celebrating their 50th anniversary as a couple last year, coincidentally on the same day Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge.

They are a part of Grand Rapids’ history, and Lennox will be missed. Community members have been sharing stories about Lennox on Facebook and over beer and cocktails at The Apartment Lounge.

Bob Johnson, who took over ownership of the lounge in 2013, promising to carry on the legacy Lennox and Ladner began, said via his Facebook page that before his death, Lennox requested “a memorial service with brightly colored tablecloths and smiles and a big party.”

“Ed and I will be working on pulling this together and we appreciate everybody's thoughts, prayers and sentiments,” Johnson said. “We know he's in a much better place and we know he's looking down on all of us and he always will be.”

Flat beer

Sitting in the Denver International Airport (sipping on a beer), Business Journal reporter Pat Evans found out he had won an award for his coverage of West Michigan beer — trademarks, to be exact.

He had missed the award ceremonies during Saturday’s session of the Great American Beer Festival, and we don’t blame him.

Spending two days deciding what beers to try from more than 700 breweries among 15,000 people in the Colorado Convention Center is enough to make anyone go crazy.

He was excited about the award and fired off a couple of texts to friends in the industry, making the joke that Michigan now had earned seven medals from the festival.

Evans ran into several West Michigan brewers in Denver, including Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler from Mitten Brewing, Joel Kamp and Chad Doane from Pigeon Hill, and Founders brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki —who won a Gold Medal at the ceremony.

Michigan beer fans should be excited about the six medals, but in reality, it’s a bit of a letdown. California won 67 — San Diego County won 19 all on its own. Colorado won 36 and even Ohio took home 10.

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